February 15, 2016, Kampala, Uganda – Opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besiege has been released after being briefly arrested by Ugandan police for leading a procession of supporters in the capital, Kampala.
The arrest of the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party on Monday came just days before presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place on February 18.
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Coleen Nantongo, an FDC parliamentary candidate for Kampala Central, said the detention cast a dark cloud over the upcoming polls.
“Uganda is doomed,” she said. “We cannot have a fair election when this is what the police do. Whenever there are elections they tear-gas us and arrest us, so how can we be expected to have a fair competition?”
Besigye has lost three disputed elections against the current president, Yoweri Museveni, who has been leading the country for 30 years.
FDC supporters gathered outside the police station in Wapeendwo, Kampala, where Besigye was believed to have been held.
Opposition supporter James Magara, 40, said that the arrest raised doubts that the election would be free and fair.
“There is no democracy in Uganda, and now the whole world will see it. Museveni does not want to lose so he sends the police after us, but this time we will not accept it. We will not let him continue like this,” he told Al Jazeera.
Students demonstrating at Makerere University in Uganda’s capital, Kampala [Tendai Marima/Al Jazeera]
Police in full riot gear could be seen in parts of downtown Kampala Central later on Monday, while in Wakiso District, police and army officers were on patrol as groups of Besigye supporters marched chanting through the streets.
Heavily armed police also surrounded Kampala’s Makerere University, firing rounds of tear gas as students demonstrated in anticipation of a visit by Besigye after his arrest.
Third-year student Steven Mureje, 23, told Al Jazeera the students had lit fires and torn down Museveni’s campaign posters in protest against his 30-year rule.
“We are going to burn everything to do with Makerere because we want the people’s president here. We are ready to welcome him,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Kampala, said the arrest had ignited further support for the opposition leader in a country where high unemployment has seen more people support the idea of an alternative leadership.
“This event has worked in his favour,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent said. “As he goes back to his campaign trail, having been detained for a short while, there are thousands of people lining the roads.”
Although parts of the campaign period have been relatively peaceful in Kampala, the international community has before raised concerns over repression of opposition figures.
In October 2015, Besigye was placed under “preventive arrest”, which stopped him from campaigning.
Thursday’s election will mark the fourth time Besigye, Museveni’s former doctor, who has been leading the country for 30 years, will have challenged the president for the country’s top post.