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ARUA, Uganda (Reuters) - Ugandans may try to overthrow long-standing President Yoweri Museveni with Tunisia and Egypt-style street protests if elections next month are not fair, the main opposition leader told Reuters on Sunday.
Dr Kizza Besigye, a once close ally of Museveni, is leading the four-party coalition Inter Party Cooperation (IPC) that analysts say is the biggest threat to the veteran president, who marked his 25th year in office with celebrations last week.
"In our case it's even more likely that we can get chaos because remember, no leader of our country has ever handed over power peacefully to another leader," Besigye said when asked if Uganda might follow the North African lead.
"Every president of Uganda has been bombed out of office."
Political analysts say many leaders criticised for authoritarianism across the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa
"But as long as there is repression that is sustained for a long time, that pent up anger builds and at some point explodes. The ground is certainly set for that kind of public expression," Besigye said.
Museveni is respected internationally for his shepherding of the economy, for stabilising a once chaotic country and for intervening in regional hotspots such as Somalia. But critics say he marries that with domestic repression.
Last week, he attacked the United Nations for recognising Alassane Ouattara as winner of Ivory Coast's election, saying the move was hasty and there should be an African investigation.
"It shows he's really worried about developments taking place elsewhere in the world," Besigye said.
"It is the first time that we've had the sub-regional leaders and the African Union come out strongly and say 'You are not rightly elected. Get out'," he said.
"It's no longer just a Museveni decision -- him and his guns. We live in a global village."
Besigye was speaking to Reuters in the north of the east African country during a whistle-stop tour of small towns and villages that are now starting to see the beginnings of growth following years of civil war and extreme poverty.
On Saturday in Arua, he addressed about 20,000 supporters, decked out in the IPC's blue colour, wielding and twisting wooden keys in the air, in reference to the party's symbol.
"Museveni vu!" they shouted, "Museveni out!"
Museveni, though, also remains popular in the region and small numbers of his supporters raced past the rally tooting horns in cars plastered with his image.
U.S. diplomatic cables, leaked in December, said the opposition may try to provoke trouble, even if Museveni made "good faith" efforts to hold a fair poll.
Besigye denied he had any intention of stirring violence.
"We have lost elections twice, which were confirmed to have been rigged," he said. "We did not provoke violence. It doesn't have to be sparked or provoked by the opposition. The actions of government are the ones which provoke."
Besigye, 54, who was Museveni's field doctor during his days as a bush rebel, has twice stood against his old friend.
The 2001 and 2006 polls were judged flawed by the Supreme Court but it upheld Museveni's wins, arguing the irregularities had not been substantial enough to affect the overall result.
Besigye said, with less than three weeks left to the February 18 poll, his coalition may still boycott the contest -- a threat he has made several times before.
"Because (we) may end up in legitimising a very flawed process," he said.