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KAMPALA (Reuters) - A row has broken out in Uganda over claims a son-in-law of President Yoweri Museveni offered a prominent opposition politician $630,000 to pull out of national elections next month.
Francis Atugonza, a town mayor and trade spokesman for the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), says Odrek Rwabogo made the offer in a restaurant on January 5 and asked him to then appear at a Museveni rally.
Atugonza has no direct proof for his claims but has shown reporters text messages on his mobile phone from Rwabogo. The president's son-in-law has admitted meeting the opposition candidate but says he offered no bribe.
"Rwabogo offered me many things including senior positions in government, and finally, 1.5 billion Ugandan shillings," Atugonza told Reuters. "I refused to accept. Do you think that is a lot of money for that family? It is not."
Atugonza also says another son-in-law of the president, Geoffrey Kamuntu, called him three times and told him Museveni would "do anything" to persuade him to defect to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
NRM spokesman Ofwono Opondo called the allegation "ridiculous".
"The entire Bunyoro region is an NRM stronghold," Opondo told Reuters. "There would never be any reason for an NRM member to bribe anybody there or anywhere else. The FDC are up against the wall and looking for excuses."
Corruption is rife in Uganda. Voters have identified it as a key issue for the February 18 poll and analysts say it hampers the poor nation's development.
Uganda's parliament this month more than doubled the allocation of funds to the president's office ahead of the elections, prompting opposition parties to accuse him of planning to use the cash to fund his re-election campaign.
FDC leader Kizza Besigye told a meeting of civil society activists that the budget was pushed through so the money could be used to pay off his party members.
"Some of our candidates who are weak succumb to such temptations," he said.
Atugonza says Uganda's fledgling oil industry provides motivation for bribes.
"They are trying to pay us off us because there is oil in Bunyoro and they need to control the oil," he said. "They cannot have opposition here."
Uganda discovered oil in the Lake Albert rift basin along its western border with DRC in 2006.
Exploration firms, including Tullow Oil, estimate reserves of up to 2.5 billion barrels and commercial production is expected to start in 2012.
Museveni, once hailed as one of a new democratic breed of African leaders but now often criticised for authoritarianism, is expected to win the elections.
Supporters say that is because of a strong development record while the opposition says the poll will not be fair and it will pull out if it suspects rigging.