Deadly protests erupt in Uganda after the arrest of 2 opposition figures

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NAIROBI, Kenya – At least seven people were killed and 45 others injured as violent protests erupted across Uganda on Wednesday, police said after two presidential candidates were arrested as they tried to campaign ahead of the much-anticipated January elections.

Ugandan police say they arrested one of the candidates, popular musician-turned-lawmaker Bobi Wine, in the eastern district of Luuka, on charges that his rallies violated coronavirus rules. “The majority of the participants had no protection of face masks, physical distance and adequate hygiene,” a police statement said.

Another presidential candidate, Patrick Amuriat, was arrested in the northwestern town of Gulu on charges of planning to hold an unauthorized assembly. He was then released.

The unrest in Uganda echoes recent election-related violence in other African countries, including Guinea, Tanzania and Côte d’Ivoire, where opposition figures have accused entrenched leaders of manipulating the rules and rigged the ballot boxes in order to prolong their stay in power.

In Uganda, this was the second time this month that police have detained the same two candidates. Authorities had also previously arrested Mr. Wine, real name Robert Kyagulanyi, repeatedly beat him in detention and even killed his driver. They also raided his party’s offices and confiscated election materials.

Wednesday’s arrests fueled protests in major cities like Jinja and Masaka, as well as in the capital, Kampala, and its suburbs. Videos and social media posts showed protesters burning tires, and reports of looting and vandalism were reported as officers used tear gas to disperse crowds.

Police said they arrested several people in connection with the violence. Major TV station NTV Uganda said police confiscated material as one of its reporters covered the demonstrations.

The protests come just two months before a general election in which President Yoweri Museveni will face 10 other candidates. Mr. Museveni, 76, is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and has presided over the East African nation since 1986, after dictator Idi Amin was ousted.

Although Mr. Museveni is credited with bringing peace, promoting economic growth and reducing AIDS rates, his government has been criticized for growing corruption, widespread surveillance tactics and intolerance of dissent. In 2017, he approved a measure that removed the presidential age limit of 75, allowing him to run for another term.

Mr Wine, 38, operates on a platform for change and a pledge to oversee a “people-centered” government that would ensure equal access to education, health care and economic development.

His rise illustrates a stalemate in recent years between aging despots and young voters in Africa, a trend that is also evident in countries like Algeria, Cameroon, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Mr Wine has repeatedly said that he could be killed because of his political efforts.

On Tuesday, in a video posted to his Facebook page, dozens of security officers could be seen surrounding his vehicle in Luuka before taking him to a detention van. In other images posted by his political party, the National Unity Platform, Mr. Wine, with a red mask hanging from his chin, urged the police to “be non-violent”.

He was then transported to a police station, where authorities said he had been “questioned for negligent conduct that could spread an infectious disease, obstruction, incitement to violence and holding unauthorized gatherings.”

The platform of national unity tweeted a charge sheet however, Mr. Wine was being detained for organizing a rally of over 200 people. Joel Ssenyonyi, a party spokesperson, also said Mr Wine was denied access to his lawyers, doctors, family and other party members.

“We are concerned that they may have tortured him and they do not want the world to see the condition he is in,” Ssenyonyi said in an interview.

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