Friday April 15 2011

Anger in Parliament over Besigye shooting

By Yasiin Mugerwa, Sheila Naturinda & Isaac Imaka

Lawmakers yesterday turned rowdy as others sounded war drums following the shooting of the main opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye, in an emotional House debate dominated by calls for action against perpetrators of violence and economic challenges facing the country.

While the government accused the opposition of sustaining a campaign to smear President Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony scheduled for May 12 in an attempt to hijack the peoples verdict, Kasilo County MP Elijah Okupa described the ruling NRM as a fruit that has failed to fall when it its ripe. He said a fruit will ultimately fall when it’s rotten.

Govt blamed
Lawmakers across the political spectrum, united in blaming the government, and the police leadership in particular, for using violence against opposition leaders and civilians walking to work. The lawmakers said this was an attempt to disguise the national discontent over economic problems.

A contentious government statement read by Internal Affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja that was meant to soothe the explosive situation instead roused more anger as lawmakers roundly attacked the government for reportedly doing nothing to tackle the skyrocketing prices.

But Mr Kivejinja said: “The walk-to-work demonstration had nothing to do with the current oil and commodity prices … the demonstrations were part of a hate-government campaign. It was for this reason, therefore, that police were instructed to disallow those activities.”

Even though the Police Spokesperson Judith Nabakooba apologised to the pupils of Kasangati Primary School who were teargassed during the walk-to-work campaign on Monday, in his statement Mr Kivejinja said: “Some of the so-called walkers when engaged by police decided to run into schools and a health centre to use children and patients as human shields.”

The opposition rejected the claim by the minister and accused the government of a cover-up.
To the opposition MPs, the manner in which Dr Besigye and others were manhandled on Monday and his subsequent shooting in the hand yesterday was too much to bear. “Shooting Dr Besigye will not solve the problems the country is facing. You can kill Dr Besigye but you will not shoot the crisis the people are facing,” Alice Alaso (Soroti Woman) said.

Aruu MP Odonga Otto said: “Every day police is killing Ugandans. You can say I am emotional because I am an Acholi, but was that student they killed in Rubanda West an Acholi? In one week, police have killed three innocent people and they wanted to finish off Dr Besigye too.”

Mr Otto also accused the junior health minister, James Kakooza of attempting to kill Dr Besigye after it emerged that he was allegedly noticed pretending to be a Red Cross volunteer so as to get nearer to the wounded opposition leader. But Mr Kakooza denied the allegations saying he was on a rescue mission.

For failure to condemn the police for shooting Dr Besigye, brutalising the opposition leaders and people walking to work in Kivejinja’s statement, Aswa MP Reagan Okumu warned the government of the consequences.

“You are provoking the country into war by covering police acts. Every citizen has a right to complain when things are not good. There is a crisis and majority of Ugandans are suffering.”

He added: “What the country needs is an apology; I have seen how my party president was shot and the number of people suffering in Mulago Hospital. When people are in power they get mad because power corrupts.”

Last week, opposition leaders launched a walk-to-work campaign in solidarity with the rest of Ugandans who are suffering because of high commodity prices. The campaign took effect on Monday, a day when Dr Besigye and other opposition figures were arrested and charged with inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders.

Justine Kasule Lumumba (Bugiri Woman, NRM) said: “We in the NRM should handle this issue with the spirit of modern democracy that today you are in government and tomorrow in the opposition. What is happening today could be some of the reasons that pulled down former governments,” she said.

“I request my colleagues to bear in mind that if you are the one in the opposition and demonstrated, would you have loved to be handled the way they were? The NRM should show the voters that government feels for them.”

Christine Abia (Arua Woman) said: “Ever since another army man (Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura) came to head the police, we have seen nothing but anarchy in the Force. We actually miss the former IGP (Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala). Walk-to-work is a serious statement to show that the government has abandoned the people.”

House adjourned
The House was prematurely adjourned after angry lawmakers began booing the planning minister Ephraim Kamuntu for claiming that the walk has never been an answer to the escalating prices, a response many lawmakers described as mockery of the poor.

While the government told Parliament that causes of inflation were beyond their control, Ms Alaso warned: “Hungry Ugandans will be difficult to manage. The sooner the government listens and deals with the root causes of the problems, the better. People will continue walking to work until government responds to the high prices.”

cap: Dr Besigye is escorted by his supporters yesterday. PHOTO BY ISAAC KASAMANI