Ugandan rivals hold final rallies before presidential polls

Uganda’s presidential contenders held their final rallies Tuesday, a day after opposition supporters clashed with police leaving at least one dead.

Key opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, a three-time loser who was briefly detained by police in chaotic protests on Monday, said he was still confident of ending veteran President Yoweri Museveni’s three-decade grip on power in the East African nation.

“The election cannot be free or fair, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be won,” Besigye told AFP, saying he was still aiming for an “outright win”, not a second round run-off in which the opposition might unify.

At least one person was killed Monday as police fought running battles with Besigye supporters from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.

“We believe we can win the unfree and unfair election, that’s what we are trying to do,” Besigye said before heading towards the city centre accompanied by some 300 supporters to hold rallies.

Many were riding motorbikes, waving tree branches and blowing whistles and horns, and wearing shirts with Besigye’s face emblazoned on the front.

– ‘They want change’ –
“If rigged, as we expect, we will continue the struggle for democracy,” Besigye said. “The struggle will simply continue.”

Museveni is widely predicted to win a fifth term in power in Thursday’s polls, and warned at a rally against voting for his rivals.

“It would be a blunder to entrust liars with power,” Museveni told supporters, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported Tuesday. “The opposition leaders are liars. They just talk.”

Both Museveni and Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent, are also holding rallies on Tuesday. Campaigning is banned on Wednesday.

Over 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, casting ballots in over 28,000 polling stations for both a president and member of parliament, with 290 seats being contested by candidates from 29 political parties.

“In two days the nightmare will be over – there’s absolutely no doubt we are winning this election,” Besigye said, saying his supporters did not want a leader entering his fourth decade in power.

“They gave us a simple message, they want change. They not only need change, but they deserve change,” Besigye said.

– ‘Rampage’ –
Seven opposition candidates are vying to deny veteran leader Museveni a fourth decade in power at the February 18 election and there are fears violence could mar the vote, with all sides accusing each other of arming militias to press their claims.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said Besigye had been “in total disregard of his authorised programme” on Monday, and that one person had died in clashes with protestors as they went on the “rampage, yelling, threatening, looting and damaging property,” and hurling bricks at police.

“The police have a duty to protect the safety of the public, together with the right to protect themselves, and had to act accordingly, given the intensity of the attacks they faced,” Enanga said.

Police said 19 people were wounded, including a policewoman, and 22 people arrested.

Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and the liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police. However, apart from Monday’s violence, campaigning has been relatively peaceful.

The US State Department on Monday stressed the need for a “peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process” and called on all sides to “refrain from provocative actions or rhetoric that raise tensions.”

Museveni, who seized power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, after Equatorial Guinea’s President Theodore Obiang Nguema, Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Cameroon’s Paul Biya.

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