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U.S. Concerned over Uganda’s Response to “Walk-to-Work” Protests

By Stephen Kaufman | Staff Writer | 28 April 2011
Ugandan troops controlling streets of Kampala (AP Images)

The United States says Ugandans have the right to express themselves freely and to demonstrate peacefully without fear of intimidation.

Washington — The State Department’s top African affairs official told Uganda’s foreign affairs minister that the Ugandan government needs to act in “a responsible and civil fashion” in response to peaceful protesters.

Speaking in Washington April 28, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said he had telephoned Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa earlier in the day to express concern about the Ugandan government’s reaction to the “walk-to-work” protests against high prices, as well as concern over the harassment and treatment of former presidential candidate and opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

“I urged political outreach and reconciliation to resolve the differences that the government has with opposition leaders. I also encouraged that there be scope for civil and peaceful protests, and that government reaction to those protests should be tempered, responsible and civil,” Carson said.

Uganda has seen clashes between protesters and police and the arrest of opposition figures in response to a “walk-to-work” campaign to protest rising oil and food prices.

The Obama administration has seen reports of the arrests and expressed “great concern and regret” over “the very serious and apparent mistreatment” of Dr. Besigye, Carson said.

He added that, in his conversation with Kutesa, the minister had said the Ugandan government would improve its treatment of the protesters and opposition.

“He said that he hoped that President [Yoweri] Museveni would be meeting with opposition political parties and leaders on Tuesday of next week,” Carson said.

The State Department’s acting deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, issued a statement April 26 in which he said the Obama administration is “troubled by the tragic loss of life and injuries at the hands of Uganda’s security forces” in their response to the walk-to-work protests, as well as their detention of opposition leaders.

“We also are concerned by reports that the Ugandan government has attempted to restrict media coverage of these protests and, on at least one occasion, block certain social networking websites,” Toner said.

Toner said the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly “are fundamental human rights and a critical component of democracy.”

“We renew our call for the Ugandan government to respect the opposition’s right to express its viewpoints and citizens’ rights to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of intimidation,” he said.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)