Police charged Kizza Besigye, President Yoweri Museveni’s closest rival in February elections, with inciting unrest after arresting him near his home in the capital Kampala. A Reuters witness said Besigye was bundled into a police vehicle.
Civil society and opposition parties were planning to hold a “Walk to Work” protest on Monday over rising food and fuel prices in the east African country.
“Besigye has been charged for inciting violence and refusal to take lawful orders from police, and has been subsequently released on bail and he is to appear in court again on May 5,” David Mpanga, his lawyer, said.
Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, said nine opposition politicians were arrested as they attempted to walk from their homes to their offices in the city centre.
“Reliable information indicated that they were to converge … and hoped to have gathered enough masses to go the Constitutional Square (in the city centre),” he told a news conference.
“What these politicians were doing was not an innocent walk. It was an organised procession and these people wanted to demonstrate.”
Most of the clashes between the police and civilians took place in the outer reaches of the city and the centre of the capital remained largely calm under heavy security guard.
“If I’m not committing an offence, do not violate my rights, let me go about my business, go to do what I want to do the way I want to do it, that is my right,” Besigye told reporters after police intercepted him on the road just before his arrest.
A Reuters witness said after Besigye was released, he walked out of the court with a crowd of about 300 supporters before police threw teargas at them.
Another opposition leader, Norbert Mao, was detained after a brief standoff with the police in a Kampala suburb. The security forces used teargas to disperse a crowd that had gathered.
“How do you order the teargassing of people who are not armed?” Mao said before he was led into a waiting police vehicle, with his supporters shouting encouragement.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States was troubled by the arrests and urged the government “to respect the opposition’s right to express its viewpoints and citizens’ rights to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of intimidation.”
Sam Mugumya, Besigye’s aide, said police arrested the politician after he had walked for about a mile from his house.
“About six police patrol vehicles blocked the road and police started accusing Besigye of trying to incite the masses and disrupting traffic,” he told Reuters.
“A crowd started gathering and a scuffle ensued and then the police forcefully bundled Besigye and others onto a police pick-up truck and brought him to Kisangati police station.”
Officials from Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party said three legislators from their party and a senior FDC official were also detained.
No immediate reason was given for the other detentions.
Besigye was the presidential candidate for the Inter-Party Cooperation, a coalition of five parties that fielded a joint candidate against Museveni. Mao was candidate for the Democratic Party, which is not part of the opposition coalition.
Prices have been rising after drought hurt food production in many parts of Uganda and higher fuel prices have increased transport costs, pushing up food prices further in urban areas.
Uganda’s consumer price index jumped 4.1 percent in March from February, pushing the year-on-year inflation rate up for a fifth straight month to 11.1 percent from a revised 6.4 percent a month earlier.
Food prices, which carry a 27.2 percent weighting in the index, jumped 11.9 percent from a month earlier.