Uganda’s leading opposition figure, Kizza Besigye, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of holding an illegal meeting, police said, a move the opposition said was meant to intimidate them ahead of next year’s elections. President Yoweri Museveni is already one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and is widely expected to stand for re-election, a move that could extend his rule to 35 years.
Critics say Museveni is seeking a lifetime presidency, while curtailing freedoms and failing to curb entrenched graft. Besigye’s arrest adds to tensions in the region shaken by a political crisis in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s quest for a third term prompted a coup attempt and gunfire in the streets of the capital.
Besigye “was holding an illegal meeting and he also disobeyed lawful orders and we had to detain him,” police spokeswoman Polly Namaye told Reuters. She said police had not decided whether to charge him or release him on bail. He has often been detained and freed shortly afterwards.
Besigye, who has twice lost elections to Museveni, led widespread anti-government protests shortly after the last vote in 2011, which sparked a security crackdown that left at least nine people dead. In 2012, he stood down as leader of Uganda’s biggest opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), but remains the most popular opposition figure.