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Protests in Uganda after MPs detained at airport

KAMPALA (Reuters): Protests erupted in the Ugandan capital on Friday after police detained two lawmakers at the international airport as they prepared to travel abroad for medical care, witnesses said. People demonstrated in different parts of Kampala, burning tyres and piling rocks and other barricades in the middle of the roads. Police said the protests were limited and had been contained.

The lawmakers, Robert Kyagulanyi and Francis Zaake, say they were tortured by security forces while in detention in August. The case led to protests against President Yoweri Museveni. He has won praise in the West for his support against militant Islam in the region but, at age 74, is seen by many Ugandans as out of touch with his people, nearly 80 percent of whom are under the age of 30.

The lawmakers were trying to leave the country to seek medical treatment abroad for the injuries they said they suffered in detention when police arrested them at Kampala’s international airport on Thursday night. Kyagulanyi was charged with treason last over his alleged role in the stoning of President Yoweri Museveni‚Äôs convoy this month, but a court granted him access to private doctors, citing his health.

Kyagulanyi’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam last week told Reuters that his client had been left unable to stand after being beaten while in detention. When he appeared in court a day after his lawyer spoke, he was unable to walk without help. Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo last week dismissed the lawyer’s comments as rubbish. Kyagulanyi, 35, is a musician who entered politics after winning a parliamentary by-election last year. He goes by the stage name “Bobi Wine” and has emerged as a formidable threat to President Yoweri Museveni’s 32-year rule, winning popular support through his music and strong criticism of the government.

On Friday morning, Amsterdam said he had spoken to Kyagulanyi, who said he had been “beaten by the same army unit as before”. Government spokesman Opondo did not answer a phone call requesting comment. Friday’s demonstrations were most intense in Kamwokya, a suburb of Kampala where Kyagulanyi, a pop star known by his stage name Bobi Wine, has a recording studio, according to Dick Nvule, a local radio reporter.

“Protesters blocked the roads using garbage cans and burning tyres. Motorists have to get alternative routes to the city centre. Soldiers and riot police are still clearing the roads,” Nvule told Reuters. Police spokesman Luke Owoyesigyire said police were monitoring the city to ensure no illegal rallies took place.

The two parliamentarians were among a group of five lawmakers who were detained on Aug. 13 in Uganda’s northwestern town of Arua and accused of throwing stones at a presidential convoy during the campaign for a parliamentary seat. Police said on Thursday they had stopped Kyagulanyi, who has been charged with treason but released on bail, as they awaited further guidance.

 

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