A day after his release on charges he called politically motivated, Uganda’s main opposition leader Tuesday called President Yoweri Museveni a dictator who should be thrown out.
“The people of Uganda are under siege,” Kizza Besigye said at a news conference. “They are prisoners like I have been. But we have to confront the pillars of the dictatorship and uproot them. We should go to vote out the dictatorship and liberate ourselves.”
Besigye, a former Museveni ally now seen as his most credible challenger in a Feb. 23 election, was released on bail Monday on military court charges of terrorism and illegal possession of firearms.
Besigye’s supporters say the charges were trumped up to ruin his chances in the contest with Museveni, who once was hailed as a reformer but has come under criticism from international allies and human rights groups.
A Dec. 11 opinion poll survey by the government-owned Sunday Vision newspaper showed Besigye with a 14-point lead over Museveni.
The survey of 1,208 people in seven main towns showed Besigye with 46 percent of the vote to Museveni’s 32 percent. The poll had a margin of error of five percentage points.
“My detention was political detention,” Besigye said, adding that Museveni’s 19-year-old regime “is intent on using force to remain in power.”
Some 12,000 supporters cheered as Besigye left the High Court on Monday. He had been in prison since he was arrested Nov. 14 and charged with treason and rape in civilian court. A military tribunal later charged him with terrorism and illegal possession of firearms.
Police fired bullets and tear gas outside the courthouse to scatter supporters who broke through a police cordon to greet Besigye. An Associated Press reporter saw military police beating some civilians.
“The person who should be charged with treason and violence is Museveni,” Besigye said, citing a December ruling from the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice that held Uganda responsible for killing, torture and cruel treatment of civilians when it invaded neighboring Congo in the 1990s.
Uganda has said that a main reason for the invasion was that Ugandan rebel groups fighting Museveni’s government were using northeastern Congo as a base.
Museveni seized power in 1986 and once was hailed as a new breed of African leader. But his Congo adventure and questions about his commitment to democracy have undermined his credentials as a reformer.
Uganda’s parliament — packed with Museveni supporters — changed the constitution in July to lift term limits, allowing Museveni to run for a third term. He has placed friends and relatives in key positions in his government and military.
Sweden, Britain, Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands have withdrawn part of their funding to Uganda because of concerns about Uganda’s democratic development.
Return from exile
In 2001, Besigye came in second in a presidential election that was marred by violence and allegations of massive rigging. After the vote, Besigye was briefly detained and questioned by the police on charges of treason. He fled to the United States and then South Africa, saying his life was in danger.
He returned Oct. 26 to run for president.
Besigye is expected to address his first rally since leaving prison later Tuesday in Kayunga, 50 miles northeast of the capital, Kampala.