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GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights official urged Uganda on Sunday to halt "excessive force" against demonstrators, which she said had turned peaceful protests over food and fuel prices into a national crisis.
Eight people have been killed and more than 250 treated in Kampala's Mulago hospital for injuries during three weeks of unrest in the east African country, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.
The treatment of opposition leader Kizza Besigye during his latest arrest was "shocking" and it is reported that he has still has not fully recovered his sight after being sprayed at point-blank range with pepper spray on Thursday, she said.
"The excessive use of force by security officers was plain to see in the television footage of the event. While I do not condone the violent rioting that followed, the Ugandan authorities must realize that their own actions have been the major factor in turning what were originally peaceful protests about escalating food and fuel prices into a national crisis," Pillay said.
President Yoweri Museveni vowed on Saturday to defeat the protests. He accused organisers of plotting to destabilise his government through looting.
The unrest has the potential to unnerve investors in east Africa's third largest economy and weaken its currency, the Ugandan shilling.
Noting that further protests were planned for Monday, Pillay said Ugandans must be allowed their right to peaceful assembly, and their legitimate concerns about the increased cost of living and demands for wider political dialogue must be addressed.
Some 580 people are believed to have been arrested across the country, Pillay said.
Her office had received information that since protests began on April 11, police and the Uganda People's Defense Force had indiscriminately used teargas, pepper spray, and both rubber and live bullets against protesters, and even against individuals who were not involved in the protests.
According to the Uganda Human Rights Commission, teargas has also been fired into schools, health centres and homes, affecting women and children, the U.N. statement said.
"Many of these actions clearly constitute disproportionate and excessive use of force," said Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge from South Africa. "Eight people have now lost their lives, including a two-year-old girl allegedly shot by a member of the security forces."
Two people were killed and at least 90 injured in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Friday after police fired bullets and teargas at crowds protesting against the arrest of Besigye.