Violence Mars Commonwealth Meeting

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[International News]

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Uganda has been disrupted by street protests.

A rally by Uganda's main opposition party urging Commonwealth sanctions against the host government turned into violent clashes with police, witnesses said.

Scores of police descended onto a group of supporters of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) after they left a zone where demonstrations are permitted, the witnesses said. One civilian and one police officer sustained serious injuries.

The trouble erupted after a speech by FDC leader Kizza Besigye. A crowd of dozens of supporters started cheering and dancing as they filed onto a street outside the zone where demonstrations are allowed during the summit which started Friday.

"This is nothing new, we have been living with a police force that does not respect the rights of the people," Mr. Besigye said. "With or without the Queen, this country will be free."

Uganda is hosting the biennial 53-nation meeting, which opened a day after Pakistan was suspended for civil rights violations under emergency rule.

"We believe that Uganda requires sanctions based on its violations," Mr. Besigye told supporters at a Kampala airstrip.

"What is happening in Pakistan also happened here. [Pakistan President] Musharraf has been asked to leave the Commonwealth, why not here?"

Over 100 protestors gathered under the sweltering sun to hear the opposition leader denounce Britain's Queen Elizabeth II for meeting Museveni, whom he accused of rights abuses and election rigging.

"Queen you are the head of our problems!" read one banner waved by the protestors, some also carrying pictures of tortured opposition activists and tear-gassed marches.

The FDC said the cost of hosting the summit in Uganda was twice the amount pledged by the government for relief in areas affected by devastating flooding.

An opposition demonstration charging the Commonwealth was not giving enough attention to impoverished communities was also staged in Kampala on Thursday, resulting in scuffles that left a handful of protestors hurt.


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