Fatalities associated with violent protests following the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, has risen to 16 as they continued across Uganda on Thursday, November 19, after they broke out Wednesday, November 18. Police used tear gas, water cannon, and live ammunition to disperse protesters who had blocked roads with burning tires in Kampala, leading to the closure of a number of roads in the central business district. Police announced that some 350 people have been arrested on charges of unlawful demonstration assault and robbery. At least 65 others have been injured during the unrest. Demonstrations in Kampala continued into Thursday evening and protests were also reported in Jinja (Eastern region).
Unrest broke out on Wednesday after Kyagulanyi was detained prior to staging a rally in Luuka district (Eastern Region) on Wednesday. He had been scheduled to address his supporters but police accused him of breaching coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on gatherings of more than 200 people. Protests were reported in locations across Uganda, including Kampala, where protesters were dispersed by police in the Kiseka Market area of the city.
Further protests across Uganda are possible and subsequent clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces are likely to occur.
Political tensions in Uganda have been increasing ahead of the presidential election in 2021, after President Yoweri Museveni pushed through controversial constitutional reforms in December 2017 to remove the presidential age limit in a move widely seen as paving the way for him to stand for a sixth term in office. The debate around the proposed constitutional reforms was bitter with infighting within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), regular protests and several opposition leaders being arrested. However, Museveni and his supporters, backed by a closely-aligned and powerful military, have largely succeeded in suppressing opposition to his candidacy within the NRM.
Having come to prominence during the constitutional reform campaign, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu has become a major opposition talisman following his move into politics in 2017. The outspoken critic of Museveni has been arrested multiple times by security forces on charges related to anti-government protests, with arrests sparking unrest amongst his populist support base. After announcing his bid to run for president in the 2021 general election in 2019, he assumed leadership of the National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party and revamped it as the National Unity Platform, becoming the party's de facto presidential candidate.
Those in Uganda are advised to monitor the situation, avoid all demonstrations as a precaution, anticipate a heightened security presence, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities.
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