KAMPALA, Uganda — The United States pressed Thursday for a speedy and fair trial for Uganda’s main opposition leader, whose arrest on treason charges this week sparked two days of rioting.
Kizza Besigye’s arrest Monday came as he prepared to challenge his one-time ally, President Yoweri Museveni, in elections expected early next year.
Besigye was charged with treason — which carries the death penalty — concealment of treason and rape. His supporters rioted and clashed with security forces for two days, leaving at least one man dead.
The U.S. Embassy called for the trial to be concluded before the elections, expected next March or April, to avoid affecting the campaign.
“We urge the government of Uganda to examine the basis of these charges carefully and to honor its commitments” to abide by international civil rights codes, the embassy said.
It called for “a fair, speedy and transparent trial, open to appropriate domestic and international observers.”
Besigye, who returned from exile last month and has mounted the strongest challenge to Museveni’s 19-year rule, is accused of recruiting, financing and arming rebels with the help of neighboring Rwanda, Congo and Sudan.
He has denied past accusations that he led one rebel army and had links to another.
Museveni has denied opposition claims that Besigye was charged in an effort to eliminate a credible opponent.
Museveni had been hailed as a reformer in a country that suffered the brutal tyranny of Idi Amin in the 1970s and 1980s, but he is facing increasing opposition amid what his critics see as signs he wants to remain president for life.
Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said the military would re-arrest 14 of Besigye’s co-defendants who were granted bail by the High Court on Wednesday.
The 14, also accused of treason, refused to leave prison despite being granted bail, fearing they would be seized by dozens of soldiers posted around the premises.
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