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Authorities arrest opposition, battle journalists and protesters

The leader of Uganda's main opposition party has been charged with riotous behaviour and inciting violence while at least eight journalists have reported being injured during a new wave of protests over rising fuel and food prices, say Human Rights Network Uganda (HRJ-Uganda) and news reports.

Ugandan soldiers and police fired teargas to disperse thousands demonstrating against the arrest of Forum for Democratic Change leader Kizza Besigye on 18 April, in the third "walk to work" protest.

President Yoweri Museveni's closest rival in February elections, Besigye was arrested a week ago after a wave of demonstrations erupted in Uganda, in which his supporters chanted slogans about how protests in Tunisia and Egypt had led to new governments, reports the "Guardian".

More than a dozen people were also arrested after police called the protests illegal and warned that they would detain anyone who tried to demonstrate. Among those arrested were opposition leaders in other parts of the capital, including Norbert Mao, leader of the Democratic Party, and Olara Otunnu of Uganda Peoples Congress.

On 14 April in Kampala, WBS TV cameraman Francis Mukasa was beaten while covering protests following the arrest of the Kampala mayor-elect Ssalongo Erias Lukwago, reports HRNJ-Uganda. Mukasa was rushed to Nsambya hospital in serious condition after police sprayed him with tear gas.

Ronald Muyinda, a Radio One journalist, was beaten by military personnel at Wampeewo as he was relaying live scenes of gunfire. Muyinda was clearly identified as a journalist in his radio station jacket, but military police charged at him and broke his pelvis and leg, says HRNJ-Uganda.

"Most victim journalists who spoke to HRNJ-Uganda indicated that they were properly dressed with station-marked jackets and identification and that there was no way the military could have mistaken them for protesters. The attacks therefore appear to have been organised to prevent journalists from documenting the brutal attacks on the protesters," said HRNJ-Uganda.

HRNJ-Uganda is also investigating reports that the Broadcasting Council on 14 April secretly issued directives to media houses to stop live broadcasts of the protests as well as video clips of Besigye, who himself sustained a rubber bullet injury during one of the protests.

The latest news reports say that the Ugandan government has asked Internet Service Providers to shut down access to Facebook and Twitter during the protests.

"It would be dangerous for the government to make unjustified use of protection of national security as grounds for controlling information," warned Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Museveni, in power since 1986, has warned he would not allow Besigye to lead the protests, and blamed drought for reduced food production and higher global oil prices for increased transport costs.

Inflation rates across the east African region, including neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, have risen in recent months due to increases in the cost of food and fuel. In Uganda, the year-on-year inflation rate was 11.1 percent, says the "Guardian", and the price of a litre of gas has increased by almost a third in the past month alone.

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