updated 2/26/2004 8:41:18 PM ET 2004-02-27T01:41:18

Massive street protests after a massacre by rebels in northern Uganda turned violent Wednesday, with mobs beating rival tribesmen and burning houses and police shooting into the crowd. At least nine people were killed.

The protests came shortly after the Ugandan army announced it had killed 21 rebels who massacred dozens of civilians over the weekend at a refugee camp a few miles north of this war-weary town.

Thousands of people took to Lira’s streets to protest the government’s failure to protect civilians. Smaller groups broke away from the protest and began burning and looting about 50 homes belonging to the Acholi, the northern tribe from which the rebels draw most of their fighters.

Police fire into crowd
An Associated Press photographer saw police officers fire into the crowd of protesters, killing two people and wounding another five. It was not clear if the police were responding to fire from the crowd.

Mobs beat to death at least two people, police said. A witness, Jane Acan, said two men and a woman were stoned to death. Acan said she managed to escape before protesters burned her house.

Automatic gunfire crackled in central Lira and soldiers patrolled the streets in armored vehicles. A lawmaker from the region, Charles Angiro, said angry protesters smashed the windows of his car.

A doctor at the town’s hospital, Jane Aceng, said five bodies had been brought to the morgue, one beaten to the death and the others shot. It was not clear if some of the bodies were people witnesses saw killed.

The protest highlighted widespread anger among people in northern Uganda that the government is not doing enough to end an 18-year insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a quasi-religious rebel group blamed for Saturday’s bloodshed at the Barlonyo refugee camp.

President visits area
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who visited the area Tuesday, put the death toll from the weekend raid at 84, but local officials and witnesses said more than 200 people were killed.

“The government has shown a lack of concern for the people of Lira and northern Uganda as a whole,” said John Bosco Ochieng, 32, a university student. “It’s always been giving empty promises. If there is mass murder, they say it is the kick of the dying horse. How long will they keep giving empty promises?”

Some of the protesters held up banners that said, “The United Nations must intervene.” Others demanded that the government do more to protect civilians. Businesses in Lira were shuttered and local authorities declared a week of mourning.

The army launched attacks on two groups of the Lord’s Resistance Army on Tuesday in two villages near the Barlonyo Camp. An army spokesman said 16 rebels were killed in one attack and five were killed in the other.

“They (the rebels) were pinned down by helicopters and ground forces ... These rebels were part of the group that attacked Barlonyo camp,” Lt. Chris Magezi said Wednesday.

Thousands killed in rebellion
The Barlonyo massacre cast serious doubt on the government’s assertion that it is crushing the Lord’s Resistance Army, which says it wants Uganda to be governed by the Ten Commandments. It’s led by Joseph Kony, who claims to have spiritual powers.

The rebellion has claimed thousands of lives, displaced a million people, and spread fear throughout the region.

Museveni blamed the army for failing to prevent the Barlonyo attack and apologized to the region’s people.

“It’s very sad, on behalf of the government, or the army, I apologize to the people because the mistake is on the side of the army,” Museveni said after visiting a hospital packed with survivors. “They (the army) did not coordinate well but we have got a long struggle, we shall overcome.”

Uganda’s current government is dominated by southerners like Museveni, a fact that causes resentment in the north. Even though the Lord’s Resistance Army has its roots in a 1980s rebellion by the northern Acholi people, the group’s current goals remain murky.

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