Friday April 15 2011

Besigye’s walk to work: A minute by minute account of his ordeal

By John Njoroge

6.27am-A cheerful Dr Besigye leaves his Kasangati home for his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) office in Najjanankumbi, about 20 kilometres away. He is accompanied by Sam Mugumya his personal aide, Kyaddondo East MP-elect Ibrahim Semujju Nganda and three other aides.

6.47am- The entourage is intercepted by police officers in anti-riot gear less than 100 metres from the Kasangati police post. Dr Besigye is asked not to continue with his walk to work. He declines and continues. A crowd steadily begins to gather around him.

6.54am- At Kasangati Health Centre, Dr Besigye is blocked from proceeding. After a short verbal exchange with the officers, he decides to sit in a roadside trench. He is joined by Mr Mugumya and a large number of supporters forming a protective ring around him. Journalists struggle to take pictures and shoot videos.

7.30am- An unknown police officer joins Dr Besigye and his supporters in the trench. He tries in vain to convince Dr Besigye to either return to his home or be transported to work. The crowd numbers are swelling fast. They now occupy half the Gayaza Road.

8.30am- An hour-and-half into the stand-off, three Red Cross ambulances arrive at the scene to the jubilation of supporters. They are parked adjacent to a petrol station. The occupants remain in the ambulances. Youths begin to turn away vehicles.

The road opposite the Kasangati Health Centre is totally blocked by protestors. MPs-elect Alice Alaso, Semujju Nganda and outgoing MP Sam Njuba engage police over the legality of their actions in blocking them from walking to work.

9.10am- Two more police pick-up trucks filled with anti-riot police, an anti-riot armoured vehicle and a water canon vehicle arrive on the scene. The crowd cheers them on. Shortly after, a police officer perched on a double cabin pick-up truck registration number UP-1222, attached to the Anti-Corruption Department vehicle fires a single gunshot into the air. There is sudden panic and the police fire stun grenades and teargas into the crowd which disperses immediately. Pandemonium breaks out. Those in the trench with Dr Besigye refuse to move.

9.30am- The water canon is moved next to the trench where Dr Besigye and his entourage are besieged. The officers spray into the clustered group in an attempt to drive them out of the trench. Dr Besigye and his supporters hold on to each other tightly. When the water canon is turned off, those in the trench are drenched, their feet under water to the ankle.

9.41Am- Scores more brave the teargas and return to the top of Dr Besigye’s trench. Several officers jump into the trench and attempt to remove him from the trench by force. The officers face stiff resistance from Dr Besigye’s supporters. They are overpowered but none of them is assaulted by the supporters. They climb out of the trench.

10.03am- Running battles between police and Dr Besigye’s supporters intensify. More teargas is fired in the surrounding areas, including into the Kasangati Health Centre and at Tender Talents Magnet School.
Red Cross personnel rush to the nursery and primary school to find hundreds of children suffering from the effects of teargas. One girl, an asthmatic, collapses and is rushed to a waiting ambulance. A Red Cross attendant is sceptical about her survival. Angry youths erect barricades on either end of the Kasangati main road blocking the approaching anti-riot police.

10.53am- Still surrounded by his aides and supporters, a dirty and tear-gassed Besigye emerges from his road side trench. He settles under a tree in the Kasangati Health Centre compound. The determined supporters restrict advancing police officers from approaching Dr Besigye. Police are left to observe from the main road as scores more emerge from the surrounding buildings and form a human shield around Dr Besigye.

11.00am- Running battles continue as police try to push away scores of supporters who are trying to return to where Dr Besigye was. Scores more take refuge at the Kasangati court premises. Police remove barricades that had been set up near the Kasangati Police Post. Prisons officers from the nearby Prisons living quarters are seen reinforcing the regular police. They surround the Kasangati Court and close its gates.

11.21Am- Braving the teargas, scores more make their way to the Kasangati Health Centre. There is suspicion amongst the supporters as one person is seriously beaten and his NRM Yellow t-shirt torn. He is recued by police. Deputy Police Spokesperson Vincent Ssekate addresses the press at the scene.

11.31Am- Dr Besigye decides he wants to continue his walk to work. His supporters applaud him as he resumes his walk. The police do not restrict his movements. Instead, they offer the backs of their pick-up trucks to journalists if they wanted to photograph or film the crowd as it moves with Dr Besigye.

12.05pm- Dr Besigye and his supporters are besieged by military police less than a mile from Kasangati Health Centre. The crowd is dispersed with teargas, rubber bullets and batons. Dr Besigye is hit by a rubber bullet on the right hand, dislocating his middle finger which literally bends over almost falling off. Using his left hand, Dr Besigye holds onto his finger and gets off the road, taking refuge under a small tree. He is immediately surrounded by his aides and scores of supporters who form a protective ring around him.

1.00pm-Parts of the Kalerwe, Mpererwe area and the Northern By-pass are closed as police and youth engage in running battles. Police provide escorts to convoys of vehicles through some parts of the by-pass. Unconfirmed reports indicated that an Anti-riot police officer has been beheaded by an unknown person. John Kato, a CID officer is rushed to hospital after surviving death at the hands of youths. Dr Besigye is rushed to Kampala Hospital where doctors attend to him.

1.50pm- FDC MPs arrive at Kampala Hospital eager to see their leader. Some are allowed to have a quick word with him while others wait patiently, among them retired Army Commander Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu.
Two pick-up trucks full of police officers are parked less than 100 metres from the hospital. It is believed that there are attempts to arrest Dr Besigye as soon as he leaves the hospital

2.17pm- A mud-splattered and tired looking Dr Besigye is allowed to speak to journalists about his walk to work ordeal. Even as he speaks in pain, he promises to walk-to -work next Monday.

5.23pm- Dr Besigye undergoes minor surgery on his right hand.