Police in Uganda fired tear gas to disperse supporters of pop star and presidential hopeful Bobi Wine when he tried to hold a rally, underscoring the hurdles he faces in seeking to unseat President Yoweri Museveni.
Police arrested Wine, a lawmaker whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, accusing him of staging an illegal assembly.
Wine and his pressure group People Power aimed to start a programme of consultations with supporters on plans to stand for president next year in a challenge to Museveni (75) who has ruled Uganda since 1986.
Edson Muhangi, a police commander, told reporters Wine was attempting to hold a meeting in an open area when he was allowed to meet supporters in an enclosed area like a conference hall.
“This is not an enclosed place, we cannot allow them to be here,” Muhangi said.
“We are reliably informed their aim is to engage us so they can be seen exchanging words, fighting with police and tarnishing the image of Uganda.”
Uganda’s Electoral Commission cleared Wine to conduct consultations, but security personnel have broad powers to allow or prohibit public gatherings.
Police arrested Wine as he and his supporters started the meeting and he was held at a nearby police post, Wine said on Twitter.
Security personnel in Uganda routinely break up opposition rallies with tear gas, beatings and detentions. Human rights activists accused police and the army of rights violations.
Since he became a legislator in 2017, Wine rattled Ugandan authorities, who see him as a threat to Museveni.
The Daily Monitor newspaper reported a day-old baby was rushed to a hospital in critical condition after inhaling tear gas used to disperse the crowd. Police spokesman Patrick Onyango could not comment.
Robert Ssempala, head of the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, told Reuters two local reporters were briefly detained as they covered the confrontation.
He condemned the police response as “high handed and unlawful”.