Opposition politicians Norbert Mao and Muhammed Kibirige were by press time still under police detention after they were arrested as they tried to access the Constitution Square in Kampala to conduct a rally.
The politicians were part of a larger group that attempted to access the square in the heart of the city for a rally even after the police had insisted the area was out of bounds.
Also arrested with the politicians, who were protesting the rise in cost of basic commodities, was DP former candidate for the Budiope East parliamentary seat Moses Bigirwa.
Although other opposition figures Olara Otunnu (UPC), Salaam Musumba (FDC) and former independent presidential candidate Walter Lubega evaded arrest, they did not escape a flood of police water spray that left them dyed pink.
The group that escaped arrest relocated to UPC party headquarters at Uganda House, where they addressed the media and condemned the police action.
When contacted at Kira Road Police Station, where he was anticipating to be freed on police bond last night, Mr Mao said, “I am all pink.”
The DP president said the spray was an irritant, but that not much had gotten on him when the group was targeted by security forces.
The Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, later told journalists at Kampala Central Police Station from where he oversaw the operation that he was happy his men had not used teargas.
He added that the same approach will be used to dissuade crowds from jamming Entebbe Road today when FDC president KizzaBesigye returns from seeking specialised medical treatment in Nairobi, saying his entourage “will be treated like a VIP convoy”.
Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said the decision to use water cannons over tear gas was a “tactical” one. It is the first time the measure has been used by security to disperse walk-to-work protestors since demonstrations began just over one month ago.
“The colour is basically to identify people who are part of the riots,” she said. “Normally when we use tear gas we find everybody complaining ‘I wasn’t party’ – but this water targets the people who are part of the gathering, and you find that when you want to follow them up it is very easy for identification.”
She also said the choice to use the spray was due to the location of the demonstration.
“Because they were in central business district, we needed to use a tactic which may not affect other people not party to what was taking place,” she said.
Mr Manesh Dada, the proprietor of Dada Photo Studio, claimed that his photo printing machine worth Shs30 million was damaged during the fracas.
“In the process of stopping the protestors, police shattered my glass pane as they sprayed this liquid on the passersby,” he said, while mopping up his soaked floor.
And Ali Nakibinge, a downtown parking attendant, pointed to the stained cars with broken parts he was tasked with monitoring, as well as the vendors forced to throw away their used books on either side of him.
“All this business was affected,” he said, standing on a street corner still running with pink water.
“Of course we were scared. I wouldn’t even come to Kampala if we are not looking for something to eat,” said the 23-year-old Kabowa resident.
At least two photographers were harassed by security forces for taking pictures of the water cannons being deployed.
Daily Monitor photographer Isaac Kasamani said when he arrived on the scene, he was greeted by a scene of about 50 anti-riot and military police, some with dogs, and witnessed a colleague being pulled down from where he was perched taking photos.
“As I was taking pictures, some police came and chased me away,” he said. “I refused to go away but more police men came and told me to just get off, pushing me away from the scene.”
Security forces continued to block all entrances to Constitution Square into the evening.
Ms Nabakooba said the square is off-limits for having been the site of demonstrations gone wrong in the past.
“People used to have rallies in that ground, but a lot of properties would be destroyed, people’s businesses would be looted,” she said.
The police spokesperson suggested the opposition look “in other places that are neutral” to hold their rallies. She could not, however, provide an example of a suitable ground.