- - Friday, April 29, 2011

KAMPALA, Uganda — Two people have been killed and 121 injured in riots that swept across this capital city Friday, a day after an opposition leader was dragged from his vehicle and beaten and pepper-sprayed by security forces.

Police and military personnel fired live ammunition and used clubs to beat back stone-throwing rioters who were protesting Thursday’s manhandling of Kizza Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition party.

Office workers hid in their buildings and shop owners shuttered their businesses Friday, as heavily armed security forces patrolled near-empty streets that rang with gunfire.

Violence in this country has escalated swiftly since April 11, when police squashed a “walk to work” campaign led by Mr. Besigye to protest the country’s rising fuel and food prices.

In February, Mr. Besigye lost his third bid to unseat longtime President Yoweri Museveni in presidential elections.

On Friday, officials maintained their position that Mr. Besigye, who remains in jail after Thursday’s beating, and the opposition are conspiring to overthrow the government and have engaged in unlawful assembly intended to create chaos.

“There was a clear intention to do harm to the police,” said Minister of Internal Affairs AM Kirundea Kivejinja at a press conference Friday.

He labeled the protesters “criminals with intentions to enter the city center.”

Opposition leaders insist they have broken no law and have vowed to continue their protests to encourage greater government accountability and management of state resources.

Uganda’s inflation rate has shot up from 6.4 percent to 11 percent since February, and longtime President Yoweri Museveni has blamed external influences beyond the government’s control for the soaring prices.

Mr. Museveni also has come under scrutiny for gaining approval by a parliament dominated by his National Resistance Movement party to spend nearly $1 billion on Russian fighter jets, and seeking an additional $1.5 million on a lavish swearing-in ceremony next month.

Earlier this week, Mr. Museveni, a former bush rebel now in his 25th year of rule, had agreed to hold discussions with the opposition next week.

But on Thursday, a day after Mr. Besigye was released on bail for charges of holding unlawful assembly related to demonstrations last week, a plainclothes police officer shattered the FDC leader’s driver’s side window with the butt of a pistol.

Mr. Besigye then was kicked and pepper-sprayed.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, said he spoke to Uganda’s foreign minister on Thursday.

“We have expressed our concern about what appears to be harassment of Dr. Besigye,” he said. “I have myself spoken to the Ugandan foreign minister about this and have urged that the Ugandan government act both in a responsible and civil fashion in dealing with the arrest of individuals attempting to carry out peaceful protests.”

Alaso Alice Asianut, FDC secretary-general, said Thursday’s attack was proof that Mr. Museveni is not serious about dialogue and instead intends to use the scheduled meeting as a public relations stunt.

“We are seeking meaningful, structured and accountable dialogue wit the country,” she said. “We won’t grant him a photo op.”

She and other opposition leaders say they will forego dialogue until further notice but will continue with their walk to work protests against inflation and government abuse.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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