Yoweri Museveni. Picture: REUTERS
Yoweri Museveni. Picture: REUTERS

KAMPALA — Uganda’s main opposition party has vowed to step up protests after a court failed to order the release of its presidential contender, who has been under house arrest since running in February’s disputed elections.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) threatened more protests after a magistrate’s court that was due to rule on Tuesday on Kizza Besigye’s detention was ordered to refer the case to the High Court, delaying his release, according to the party’s Ingrid Turinawe.

"We are not planning violence — we are going to act peacefully," she said on Wednesday in the capital, Kampala.

President Yoweri Museveni, 71, who has ruled Africa’s biggest coffee exporter since January 1986, won the February 18 elections with 61% of ballots, according to the Electoral Commission. Mr Besigye, who was second with 35% and has been under house arrest since the day after the vote, is among four of Mr Museveni’s seven challengers who rejected the results, citing fraud.

Poll Credibility

There was international concern over the polls’ credibility, with European Union monitors describing an atmosphere of intimidation. The commission and ruling party said the polls were fair.

Supporters of the FDC are wearing black clothes on Tuesdays and have stayed away from work on Thursdays in protest at the alleged fraud.

If Ugandan courts rule against both Mr Besigye’s freedom and a petition against the election results lodged by former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, who came third in the polls, it may lead to further unrest, an analyst at Paarl-based NKC African Economics, said in a note on Wednesday.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, warned on Monday that Mr Museveni’s moves to stifle opposition "contravene the rule of law and jeopardise Uganda’s democratic process, threatening Uganda’s future stability and prosperity".

The US has described Uganda as a key strategic partner, welcoming its contribution of troops to an African force battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.