Police in Uganda reportedly used tear gas and beat opposition activists on Friday as voting in the country’s national elections descended into violence.
Opposition candidate Kizza Besigye was detained by police who burst into his election headquarters in the capital, Kampala, just as he was about to start a press conference to dispute the election process, according to The Associated Press.
Another opposition leader said he had been barricaded in his home by police vehicles, Reuters reports.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is hoping to extend his 30-year rule. One of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, he has been a valued U.S. ally in an unstable region. Museveni has been praised for helping Uganda achieve economic growth and for leading a successful campaign against HIV/AIDS, but has been criticized over alleged human rights abuses by his security forces.
The U.S. says it’s concerned about Friday’s detention of opposition activists, and Secretary of State John Kerry called Museveni to urge him to reign in the police and security forces. Kerry said he was also dismayed by the government’s decision to block Ugandans’ access to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Besigye is the president’s former doctor but split from him in 1999 and is now his most prominent critic, as NPR’s Gregory Warner reported for our Newscast unit. He has stood against Museveni in three previous elections, and has long complained that the current elections would not be free or fair.
Voting was supposed to be completed on Thursday, but had to be extended to a second day in parts of Kampala and elsewhere in the country after ballot papers failed to arrive at some polling stations.
“It’s our right to vote” Kampala resident Geofrey Were told Reuters, as he stood waiting to cast his ballot for a second day in the Ggaba neighbourhood of the capital “This man has ruled us for 30 years. Obviously we need a change.”
As the official count neared completion, Uganda’s Election Commission showed Museveni with a strong lead.