UGANDA police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse opposition supporters as they arrested a top presidential challenger, Kizza Besigye, days ahead of presidential polls, reports said.
“The arrest followed chaotic scenes as Besigye campaigned in parts of Kampala” ahead of Thursday’s election, the state-run New Vision newspaper reported, adding that tear gas was fired.
The Daily Monitor newspaper said he was arrested after trying to hold a rally in the centre of the capital, which police blocked. Besigye was later released and driven to his home in the outskirts of Kampala in a police car. He described his arrest as “intimidation”.
Besigye, a three-time failed presidential candidate, heads the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party. He has been repeatedly arrested in the past, and is commonly released without charge hours later.
With the election hours away on Thursday, Besigye’s campaign ends on the same note it started in July when he and another candidate, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, were arrested at the start of the campaigns for “planning campaign rallies without permission”.
Seven opposition candidates are vying to deny veteran leader President Yoweri Museveni a fifth term at the February 18 election, and there are fears violence could mar the campaign, with all sides accusing each other of arming militias to press their claims to power.
Besigye’s FDC party officials accused the government of blocking their efforts to address supporters in the city centre.
“Museveni has declared all public places in Kampala central a ‘no go area’ for opposition,” FDC spokesman Semujju Nganda told the Monitor, adding they had hoped to hold a rally in a central football stadium.
“Police blocked us. This has left us with no choice but to address voters on the streets and roads,” he added.
Television footage showed Besigye being put into the front seat of a police car, surrounded by riot police and journalists. There was no immediate comment from the police.
Museveni faces his stiffest challenge yet from Besigye, his former personal doctor, and Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent.
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo earlier this month claimed opposition parties were raising militia to disrupt the election, claims they have denied.
On Saturday, the candidates squared off in the second presidential debate. This time, Museveni who didn’t turn up for the debate and set off a series of “chicken” memes on social media, attended.
It was the first time all candidates shared a stage in Uganda’s acrimonious electoral periods.