Ugandan opposition warns of assassination plot after leader's arrest

Uganda's largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), claimed last Thursday that a plot to assassinate leader Kizza Besigye was under way, only a few days after Besigy was arrested and detained while leading a "walk to wor"' protest. FDC Vice-President Salaamu Musumba said at a press conference that the party had "reliable information about plans to let Dr. Besigye walk to work and assassinate him in the process," reported Uganda's WBS television. Musumba cited an incident last week where suspicious men approached Besigye's home as well as an attempt on his life in the south central town of Maska in August.

Besigye, a physician, former military officer, and a candidate in the country's last three presidential elections, was arrested and briefly detained last Monday during a demonstration against surging prices and government corruption. Aiming to walk nearly 10 miles to Kampala with about 20 supporters, the 55-year-old was seized shortly after passing through the gate outside his home, a party official told Agence-France Presse. 

A critic of long-ruling incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, Besigye has been arrested several times this year after leading or participating in the "walk to work" demonstrations, named to highlight in particular frustrations over the rising cost of fuel affecting motorists and commuters. Originating from a campaign by the Ugandan group Activists for Change (A4C) as a show of solidarity by the country's middle class, the walk actions have sometimes occurred alongside other protests that have turned violent - nearly 500 people were injured and 11 killed in demonstrations during April and May. Police used teargas late last month on protesters in downtown Kampala, but demonstrations matching the strength and consistency of Arab Spring movements have not yet materialized.

During Thursday's press conference, Musumba said that the plans have been organized and sanctioned by the country's Inspector General of Police Major-General Kale Kayihura and other military and security officials. She warned that they would be held responsible in the event that harm should befall Besigye or other FDC members, but also emphasized that the walk to work actions have been successful in "[exposing] how low the NRM government can sink to remain in power", reported the Kampala Dispatch magazine.

FDC officials also said that they were unable to secure a meeting with Kampala's police department, while police and government sources have rejected the allegations as baseless, pointing to Besigye's declining political performance and suggesting that the FDC is motivated by attempts to gain influence or taint Major-General Kayihura's image in the face of an upcoming vetting process. Besigye saw his vote share in the election earlier this year decline from numbers in the 2006 race against Museveni, his former patient and military colleague, but claimed that the president exercises complete control over the electoral commission itself, in a June appearance on Voice of America's Straight Talk Africa.

This year's election results, in which Museveni's National Resistence Movement (NRM) secured strong control of the legislature, were rejected by the opposition amidst claims of intimidation. European Union observers noted improvements from the 2006 poll but lamented administrative problems, while African Union teams emphasized an urgent need to pass new laws before the next election. Commonwealth observers ultimately concluded that the elections "did not fully meet national, regional and international standards for democratic elections", while East African intergovernmental groups expressed that they met "minimum international benchmarks for free elections."

Amnesty International released a report last Tuesday focusing on the decline of press freedom and the right to peaceful assembly, evidenced in part by the crackdown during the April and May protests. A background briefing by Human Rights Watch on the 2006 election has also raised concerns about violence by the opposition - the men who approached Besigye's home recently claiming to be FDC members were beaten and injured by his supporters - though a strong majority of reports of violent incidents were leveled against state and NRM forces.

Besigye said on Friday that he was unsurprised by the reports and said he did not plan to stop protest participation, but urged police to investigate the allegations. When asked why he was not willing to seek police participation, he described such a move as being "like entrusting a goat to the custodianship of a hyena."

While coverage so far has not raised the issue of foul play, a prominent FDC politician was seriously injured over the weekend. Beatrice Anywar, the party's energy critic who gained attention for her anti-deforestation activism, was involved in a car collision Friday morning but is reported to be in stable condition.

The FDC obtained 34 seats in this year's election, equal to that of all five other opposition parties combined, though still far less than the ruling National Resistance Movement. A bloc of independents and 10 representatives of Uganda's armed forces also sit in the legislature.

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