Group: Democratic space shrinking in Uganda ahead of polls

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The Ugandan government is reducing democratic space in this East African country ahead of February polls in which long-term President Yoweri Museveni will seek to extend his almost 30-year rule, an international rights organization said Monday.

Uganda's police have arbitrarily arrested opposition candidates and dispersed their campaign rallies ahead of the Feb. 18 presidential and parliamentary elections, Amnesty International said.

"Excessive force" used by police to disrupt the opposition gatherings is hindering the ability of Ugandans to receive information and engage with the opposition ahead of the elections, says the report, citing the arrests of the main opposition candidates, Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye, and their supporters between July and October.

"Members of the political opposition, including their presidential candidates, have been repeatedly placed under "preventive arrest" and police have indiscriminately fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators," said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East Africa.

On July 9, Mbabazi was arrested in the eastern town of Jinja and Besigye was detained at his home as they prepared to meet supporters across Uganda. Police later said the two opposition leaders were going to address illegal rallies. The politicians have since been released.

At the time of their arrests, the two opposition leaders were in talks to form an umbrella group known as the Democratic Alliance under which they planned to field a single candidate to face President Yoweri Museveni at the polls, the report said.

Information Minister Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi described the Amesty report as "untrue and useless." ''This is absolutely not true. Explanations were given as to why police had to stop these rallies," he said.

The leader of opposition in Parliament, Wafula Oguttu, called the report "accurate" and said police should respond to pressure by the international community to stop these "arbitrary arrests."

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