Ugandan opposition says troops raid its offices amid election challenge

KAMPALA (Reuters) – The leader of Uganda’s main opposition party, Bobi Wine, said troops raided its headquarters on Monday as staff tried to prepare a legal challenge to President Yoweri Museveni’s declared victory in an election last week.

Ugandan police officers refuse lawyers of Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, from meeting him at his house in Kampala, Uganda January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Wine, himself under house arrest, said party leaders were now on the run.

“Our party office has been raided by the military and been cordoned off,” Wine told Reuters. “Everybody is being pursued.”

Police spokesman Patrick Onyango said the National Unity Platform (NUP) office had been cordoned off for security reasons, but he gave no more details and did not say if the troops had entered the premises.

The electoral commission declared the incumbent Museveni the winner of the Jan. 14. election on Saturday, triggering protests in two areas. Former popstar-turned-legislator Wine of the NUP political came second and accused his rival of winning by fraud..

In the election, where voters were also choosing members of parliament, NUP won 61 seats. Five other opposition parties won 48 seats, giving opposition lawmakers in the next House 109 seats in total, a government statement said on Monday. The ruling party won 316 seats.

Wine, real name Robert Kyagulanyi, appealed to the youth to vote out Museveni, a 76-year-old who has held power since 1986. Wine’s songs have frequently criticised Museveni for corruption and nepotism, charges he denies.

Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, has dismissed the allegations of fraud and said the election may turn out to be the “most cheating free” in Uganda’s history.

The government wanted to disrupt documentation of voting fraud, party spokesman Joel Ssenyonyi said.

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“They don’t want work to continue at our offices because they know that we are putting together evidence to show the world how much of a fraudster Museveni is,” he said.

The campaign and election were marked by a deadly crackdown by security forces on opposition supporters and an internet shutdown. In one week of protests in November, at least 54 people died.

The government said opposition members and their supporters had been breaking public order laws and COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

SCUFFLE

Wine called for the military to release him from house arrest, saying his home was not a legally recognised detention center. He accused soldiers of assaulting his wife when she went into their garden.

“The soldiers were pulling her by the breasts,” he said, adding that the incident was filmed on video and she would share it when social media services were restored.

Military spokeswoman Brig. Flavia Byekwaso said she was unaware of the incident.

The law gives petitioners 20 days after results are declared to challenge them in the Supreme Court. Wine said he wanted to meet with his party to decide on a strategy that could include peaceful protests, he said.

But the military has surrounded Wine’s home in Kampala since Thursday, saying it is for his own safety.

Wine’s lawyers were denied access on Monday. One legislator for Wine’s party said he was beaten up by security forces when he tried to enter this weekend.

“In the scuffle, he got hurt,” Byekwaso told a news conference.

The NUP’s Ssenyonyi said such attacks, including on the party’s polling agents, were being carried out to cripple the court challenge.

At least 110 polling agents from Wine’s party have been arrested since the eve of the election.

Byekwaso said the government was not targeting the party’s agents and that those arrested were planning “chaos”.

Some 223 suspects have been arrested during the election on offences that include assault, intimidation and voter bribery, police said.

On Monday, the government started to partially restore internet access, which had been fully blocked during the vote.

The United States and Britain on Saturday called for investigations into reports of fraud and other election issues.

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