Ugandan soldiers and police fired teargas to disperse thousands demonstrating against the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye who was charged with inciting violence in protests over price rises.
Plainclothes officers detained Besigye, President Yoweri Museveni’s closest rival in February elections, on a road outside his house as he left to join a demonstration.
Besigye, his right hand heavily bandaged following an injury sustained in the second protest last Thursday, was loaded on to a pick-up truck and taken to a police station for interrogation before his court appearance, Reuters reports.
Soldiers joined police patrolling the streets of the capital Kampala armed with guns and batons. They fired tear gas to disperse crowds that gathered to march and a crowd of about 3,000 people outside the police station where Besigye was held.
“I will walk again on Thursday, no one has said what I’m doing is wrong,” he said during his court appearance.
“This court is being used to harass and persecute me … the court is using the police to abuse my rights.”
The court freed Besigye on bail after also charging him with engaging in riotous behaviour. Besigye was already on bail after he was charged with inciting unrest during the first “walk to work” protest last Monday.
Museveni, in power since 1986, has warned he would not allow Besigye to lead the protests, and blamed drought for reduced food production and higher global oil prices for increased transport costs.
The East African nation’s consumer price index jumped 4.1 percent in March from February, pushing the year-on-year inflation rate to 11.1 percent.
Inflation rates across the east African region, including neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, have risen in recent months due to increases in the cost of food and fuel.
The Uganda Red Cross said a man who was sick and was walking to a clinic died after fainting when he inhaled tear gas. But a police spokeswoman the report, saying no tear gas had been fired when the man fainted and died.
Police also arrested opposition leaders in other parts of the capital, including Norbert Mao, leader of the Democratic Party and Olara Otunnu of the Uganda Peoples Congress, according to Mathias Mpuuga, a member of parliament elected in February and coordinator of the protests.
Mao said the government should listen to the protestors.
“We are willing to talk to president Museveni and suggest practical solutions,” he said by phone from inside the police cell. “I don’t want to be a martyr. I just want the government to listen to me and respond to the issues we are raising.”
One analyst said the protests were likely to fizzle out.
“This is truly the first time we’re seeing sustained civil action by the opposition against an issue of substance and on a considerably large scale,” said Bernard Tabaire.
“Ultimately Museveni will prevail because at the end of the day Uganda is very rural and it’s largely the few urbanites protesting. So unless the opposition can galvanise the whole nation and make the protests a daily thing and stretch security forces we’ll likely see this unrest peter out by next week.”