UN rights boss criticises Uganda protest crackdown

Sun May 1, 2011 10:56am GMT

By Stephanie Nebehay

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.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.