U.S. Eyes Uganda Opposition Chief’s Arrest

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The U.S. State Department and the United Nations today called for transparency in legal proceedings and the rule of law following the Uganda government’s arrest of top Presidential contender Dr. Kizza Besigye. Separately, a White House source said the National Security Council is monitoring the volatile developments in Uganda.

Dr. Besigye, who has predicted victory against President Yoweri K. Museveni in elections slated for March was arrested and faces treason charges.

Additionally, the challenger, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), a conglomeration of parties and individuals opposed to Museveni’s bid to extend his 20 years in office, faces 1997 rape charges. Besigye returned from four years exile in South Africa only three weeks ago and was greeted by tens of thousands of Ugandans. He had fled after contesting the last presidential elections against Museveni, citing attempts against his life.

FDC officials dismissed the charges as trumped up contending that President Museveni fears defeat at the polls. “This is a clear testimony that the dictatorship in Uganda is not willing to open up political space,� said Kassian E. Wadri, an FDC party official.

U.S. officials are watching developments following rioting in the streets of Kampala, the Uganda capital by Besigye supporters and pro-democracy campaigners. The candidate was arrested after addressing tens of thousands of Ugandans in the outskirts of the capital, domestic Ugandan news media report.

“We urge the government of Uganda to examine carefully the basis for the charges that they arrested him on and we ask that they accord him due process and maintain a high level of transparency in pursuing this case,� Justin Higgins, a Department of State spokesperson, told The Black Star News. “In addition we will be following this case very closely.� Asked about charges by Besigye supporters that the arrest is a desperate act by the Museveni’s government to pre-empt an electoral victory by their candidate, the spokesperson added: “We are aware of the context in which this arrest took place.� President George Bush has pledged that global democratization would be a focus on his second Administration. Additionally, he is said to have personally urged Museveni not to run for another term. The White House today referred all inquiries to the State Department for official comment. A White House official who asked that he not be identified said “The National Security Council is monitoring the situation.�

Separately, in New York a United Nations spokesperson, Ari Gaitanis added: “We expect that and hope that the rule of law is observed and that there is due process. If there are any formal charges we imagine that they would have to be brought forward fairly soon.�

Dr. Besigye, a retired colonel from the Ugandan army, was once a close member of Museveni’s National Resistance Movement but was ejected when he complained about nepotism and corruption and dictatorial tendencies. He was also Museveni’s personal doctor at one point.

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