Police yesterday used teargas and live bullets to quell opposition supporters who staged a protest in Kampala against the outcome of the February 18 presidential poll.
The police said at least 10 people were arrested in the protest that turned violent after rioters started beating passersby dressed in yellow—the ruling party’s official colour.
Four police officers were injured after falling off a speeding police truck as they attempted to save an unidentified man from being lynched by the angry protestors, who accused him of wearing a campaign T-shirt of Singh Katongole, the NRM candidate in the Rubaga North parliamentary race.
Initially, the demonstration was supposed to take place at the Railway Grounds, located on Jinja Road, but police moved swiftly and sealed off the venue. Foot soldiers and regular police officers were also deployed to patrol and guard road intersections near the site.
The protestors were carrying placards with words like, “We want to eat Museveni like Samosa” and “Say no to Museveni’s vote rigging” in response to President Museveni’s recent comments that he will “eat” his main challenger, Dr Kizza Besigtye, who disputed poll results and called for peaceful protests, like samosas.
The first phase of the protest was led by former independent candidate Sam Lubega, UPC’s Olara Otunnu and Jeema’s Asuman Basalirwa. They marched and stationed themselves outside Buganda Road Court where they met with another group led by Mr Moses Kasibante, who is engaged in legal battles with Mr Katongole over Rubaga North MP seat.
Together, they marched through Kampala Road, Durstar Street, Nakasero Market, the upper side of the Old Taxi Park and Kisekka Market. At about 1pm, Mr Otunnu and other opposition leaders returned to UPC headquarters at Uganda House. But the absence of Otunnu and his group did not mean the end of the protest as witnessed by the action of the Kisekka group.
For about 40 minutes, this particular group was largely peaceful, with some members taking it upon themselves to clear the road for private vehicles. Enthusiasm filled the air when rioters asked soldiers in a UPDF truck to get off from the market area. They argued that the role of regulating public gathering is for the police.
“Go and hunt for Joseph Kony (LRA rebel leader) because you have no work here,” the protesters shouted. The soldiers left for a short time. But 20 minutes later, chaos erupted when an unidentified police officer attempted to pull down a campaign poster of opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
The presence of the huge poster, which protesters had intertwined with that of Kampala mayoral candidate Erias Lukwago, was more or less a symbol of inspiration, with opposition supporters kneeling before it, and others dubbing it with wet handkerchiefs. Hell broke loose as supporters wrestled police officers who finally gave in to the protestors’ demands and re-erected Besigye’s poster.
Then it was all calm, but only for about five minutes when the situation ran out of control again after protestors instantaneously started pursuing a man they suspected to be a supporter of the ruling party.
Military trucks, including armoured personnel carriers with UPDF soldiers, moved in quickly and took charge of the situation. All of a sudden, the entire Kisekka flared up as supporters engaged the armed security personnel in running battles. They pelted police trucks with stones, barricaded roads with logs and huge boulders.
Offices and shops closed down and motorists vacated the roads amid sporadic gunfire, teargas explosions, a heavy presence of regular and anti-riot police backed by military police. “They blocked the roads and started beating whoever would pass putting on yellow T-shirts,” police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said yesterday. “Police had to move in to stop them because they had planned to spread to other parts of Kampala to start looting shops.”
Ms Nabakooba said the riot also spread to Kikuubo area but police moved swiftly and arrested ring-leaders who, according to Nabakooba, have since confessed to having taken part in the deadly September 11, 2009 Buganda riots.
Ms Nabakooba said Mr Otunnu, Lubega and Basalirwa, who organised the riots, are being investigated by the police. She said the trio risk being charged with inciting violence if they are found to have encouraged supporters to engage in illegal gathering.
Mr Otunnu and his group later signed the book which they have been using to collect four million signatures that would be sent to the international community to show their dissatisfaction with composition of the current national electoral commission.
Mr Otunnu told journalists at UPC headquarters later that they had achieved their mission of sending a message to the international community that Ugandans are unhappy with the outcome of the February 18 polls. But information minister Ms Kabakumba Masiko said the opposition leaders were misguiding the youth to be riotous. “We wish once again to remind citizens not to be misguided into acts of lawlessness by opportunistic individuals driven by self motives, “she said