Besigye calls for calm

Dr Besigye addresses a press conference at Nairobi Hospital yesterday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN MUDIARI

Dr Kizza Besigye yesterday recovered some of his eyesight – and voice, urging his supporters not to avenge his violent arrest last week, even as he said peaceful walk-to-work protests against the rising cost of living would continue.
Dr Besigye was addressing a press conference at Nairobi Hospital where he was rushed for treatment on Friday night after he was brutally arrested and doused in tear gas and pepper spray.

“I have heard reports while here that the police officer [Gilbert Arinaitwe Bwana, who led the assault] is being hunted down for harm,” Dr Besigye said, flanked by family members and FDC official Ms Anne Mugisha. “I have contacted our people to make a statement that we have no plan for retribution.”

Television footage showed Mr Arinaitwe beating Dr Besigye and drenching him repeatedly with pepper-spray before bundling him onto a police pick-up truck on Thursday. The brutal nature of Dr Besigye’s arrest angered many of his supporters who later took to the streets in protest on Friday in widespread riots. At least five people were shot dead- bringing the death toll to 10 since the start of the opposition walk-to-work protests on April 11.

Dr Besigye asked his supporters to refrain from any vindictive acts but said the walk-to-work protests would continue until the government addresses the rising cost of fuel and food.

Doctors attending to the opposition leader said Dr Besigye had recorded some improvement and they hoped he would be discharged within four or five days depending on the progress of his recovery.

“Dr Besigye suffered chemical irritation of serious severity and on Friday evening, we took him to the theatre and cleaned the remnants of chemicals in the eye. The treatment is still going on but there is some improvement,” Dr Timothy Byakika, one of several doctors who attended to Besigye, said.

“Although we had suspected spinal and chest injuries, a scan established that there were no fractures and the injuries in his chest and back were on the soft tissue. The chemicals with which Dr Besigye had been sprayed had affected mainly his eyes, his neck and back.”

During the press conference, Dr Besigye sat in a wheelchair dressed in a white hospital robe and donned dark shades to protect his eyes from direct light.

Counter claims
On Saturday President Museveni, visiting Nairobi on an earlier-scheduled official visit, had defended the actions of the police and accused Dr Besigye of attacking the officers with a hammer and pepper spray, and defying their orders.

However, Dr Besigye yesterday denied the allegations. He said he did not have any pepper spray and that, although a hammer used by security agents to break the car window had fallen through and hurt his thigh, he had not used it against them.
Television footage from the incident does not show Dr Besigye attacking any of the officers.

Growing pressure
Government’s violent response to the walk-to-work protests has continued to draw widespread condemnation. A trade union representing workers in Kenya yesterday urged President Museveni to learn from former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and his Tunisian counterpart Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali who were forced out of power following demonstrations in their countries over the high cost of living.

Diplomatic pressure is also growing on the NRM government after a senior US official, Johnny Carson protested to Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa in a telephone call, while a senior Norwegian government official was quoted as saying the Nordic country was considering unspecified sanctions against the country.

On Saturday the Dutch envoy to Kampala, Mr Jeroen Verheul defended the visit, by European diplomats, to Nakasongola prison where Dr Besigye and DP President Norbert Mao were being held on charges arising out of the walk-to-work protest.
In a strong speech delivered during celebrations to mark the Netherlands’ National Day, Mr Verheul said his country would continue to withhold aid to government pending governance and accountability reforms.

“We will not be able to provide budget support for as long as the preconditions for such support...have not been met,” Mr Verheul said. He added: “Unfortunately we have to conclude that at present a number of these preconditions have not been met. Particularly I would like to mention the precondition on fighting corruption which has not been met for a number of years now. The preconditions on budget credibility and commitment to poverty reduction are seriously threatened by recent decisions on the national budget.”