Sixteen people have been killed in two days of violent clashes between Ugandan security forces and supporters of detained opposition leader Bobi Wine, police said on Thursday as tensions flared up two months before a presidential election.
Uganda’s security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at angry protesters who set fire, barricaded roads and looted shops in the capital Kampala, calling for calm ahead of the January 14 election.
Pop star-turned-presidential candidate Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was still in jail after being arrested on Wednesday for allegedly violating coronavirus measures at his rallies over the large crowds that attended.
“The number of deaths is now 16, with 45 injuries, some serious injuries,” Kampala police chief Moses Kafeero told AFP, without giving details about those killed.
“About 350 people have been arrested for participating in violent acts including looting, destruction of property, traffic disruption, theft and robbery during the riots,” he added.
Protests began on Wednesday, when police said seven people were killed, after Vin detained before a demonstration. Wine is considered the most important challenger to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking a sixth term.
Pockets of protests continued throughout the day in Kampala and other major cities, where young people blocked roads, started fires and started fighting with police who dropped tear gas and fired rubber bullets at protesters and in some cases fired live bullets.
Kampala on fire following the arrest in Luuka of presidential candidate Hon Robert Kyagulanyi (BOBI Wine). The protests are spreading rapidly to other city centers.
Many people have reportedly been briefly killed by the police and military in various parts of the city. pic.twitter.com/EFSZAdZfx2
– Kifefe Kizza-Besigye (@ kizzabesigye1) November 18, 2020
The Red Cross said late Wednesday that it had treated dozens of injured after “fights with police and riots”, including 11 people for gunfire.
While the military and police maintained a heavy presence, the evening had deteriorated in the evening with robberies and shops looted.
An AFP journalist saw men with hoods stop vehicles in a suburb of Kampala and robbed passengers before police opened fire on the perpetrators.
“My phone, money and handbag have been taken,” said 42-year-old Flavia Namutebi, a Kampala businesswoman who was in a robbed taxi.
“They said they want money to save Bobi Wine,” she said.
Another man identified as Ivan Kakawa, 29, a shoe salesman, told AFP: “The men beat me and demanded that I give them money.”
Uganda’s judiciary issued a statement that a courthouse in the center of Wobulenzi, about 40 kilometers north of Kampala, had been vandalized by protesters.
The old against the new
Wine, 38, has long been a thorn in Museveni’s side and attracted a widespread following through captivating pop songs about social justice and corruption.
Many young Ugandans see him as their master in a country that is stuck in poverty and youth unemployment.
Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel who took power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.
Vin has been arrested repeatedly – no later than November 3 after he submitted his candidacy for election – his concerts are routinely banned and his public meetings are broken up with tear gas.
In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Thursday demanded that Vin be released.
“We demand the immediate release of the imprisoned opposition leaders, including Bobi Wine, and it is important that security forces act in a way that respects human rights principles and the rule of law in dealing with protesters.”
The US embassy published a tweet apologizing for the violence and extending its sympathy to the victims and their families.
“We urge all parties to refrain from violence, to take good faith action to reduce tensions and to respect fundamental freedoms,” it said.
The United States deplores the violence that has claimed several lives today, and we extend our sympathy to the families of the victims and their loved ones. We call on all parties to refrain from violence, to take good faith action to reduce tensions and to respect fundamental freedoms. pic.twitter.com/FewY3RgMNw
– US Mission Uganda (@usmissionuganda) November 18, 2020
Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change, was also arrested on Wednesday but was later released.
“I can say that I am outside police cells but not free because the police can arrest me at any time as they have done,” he told AFP.
He said his party was examining whether to continue their campaign or not.
Two other presidential candidates, Henry Tumukunde and Gregory Mugisha Muntu, have suspended their campaigns until Uganda’s electoral body takes action over what they called police brutality against opposition candidates.
Museveni did not immediately comment on the protests and held a meeting in the northeastern city of Karamoja.