April 5, 2012 / 8:28 PM / in 6 years

Ugandan opposition activists defiant in face of ban

* A4C started last year to protest high prices

* Group closely linked to opposition leader Kizza Besigye

* A4C says will not be deterred by ban

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA, April 5 (Reuters) - A group aligned to Uganda’s opposition leader held a low-key rally on Thursday after the government declared it illegal, a move which has drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

Opposition frontman Kizza Besigye and the Action4Change (A4C) campaign group have spearheaded a wave of demonstrations against the rising cost of living, prompting the authorities to crack down on their rallies.

Ugandan police said they allowed Thursday’s rally to go ahead because permission had been sought before the attorney general declared A4C illegal on Wednesday. Police chief Kale Kayihura, who announced the ban, accused the activists of seeking to use violence to overthrow the government.

A few hundred opposition supporters crossed through police barricades to attend the gathering, some carrying placards denouncing President Yoweri Museveni.

“Idi Amin is better than Museveni!” read one placard, referring to the east African country’s 1970s dictator.

“This question of banning A4C activities by the government is a futile attempt. You can ban a name but you cannot ban personalities like Ssemujju, Besigye,” local media quoted Besigye saying ahead of the rally which he attended.

Besigye lost a presidential race with Museveni for the third time in February last year.

Political analyst Nicholas Ssengoba said the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) was alarmed by A4C’s popularity and that the ban was aimed at curtailing its growing influence.

“They dismissed them as some desperate group but they’re realising wherever A4C and Besigye go, a sense of ‘people power’ spreads,” Ssengoba said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the ban on A4C and said the Ugandan government had an obligation to respect people’s right to free assembly, speech, and association.

Late last year Besigye announced he would relinquish the leadership of his party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), to concentrate on participating in protest campaigns. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Richard Lough and Maria Golovnina)

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