KAMPALA (Reuters) – Three people died and at least 34 were injured, including with gun shot wounds, in protests that erupted after police arrested Ugandan presidential candidate and pop star Bobi Wine on Wednesday, Ugandan police and the Red Cross said.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has emerged as the strongest challenger against President Yoweri Museveni, 76, in the country’s presidential election due on Jan. 14.
Police said in a statement they had detained Wine while he was campaigning in the country’s east for violating anti-coronavirus measures.
They accused him of involvement “in the massive mobilisation of unauthorised assemblies and processions amidst the threat of COVID-19 in Uganda.”
After news of Wine’s detention broke across the country, violent protests immediately erupted in the capital Kampala and several other major towns.
In multiple parts of Kampala young people lit fires and erected barricades on roads, trying to block traffic and demanding the release of Wine. Squads of police and military personnel used teargas and live bullets to try to disperse the protesters, witnesses told Reuters and local television footage showed.
Police said three people had died during the skirmishes and 34 were injured. The Uganda Red Cross said it had evacuated at least 11 people who had suffered gun shot wounds to hospitals.
“The violent demonstrators set up illegal roadblocks and burnt tyres, violently attacked law enforcement personnel in the city centre” Police said, adding some protesters had also engaged in looting and vandalism .
In a tweet earlier in the day announcing his arrest, Wine said police had broken into his vehicle and forcefully detained him.
“The price of freedom is high but we shall certainly overcome,” Wine said in the tweet.
Since expressing his intention to replace Museveni, Wine has won a large following, especially among young people in the east African country.
Many supporters say they are drawn to him by the criticism of Museveni’s government woven into his lyrics. Others say that as a young leader he is better positioned to tackle the challenges they face.
Wine’s large following has rattled the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and security forces have frequently fired teargas at his rallies and detained and beaten his supporters, witnesses say.
On the day he was nominated early this month, a squad of military and police personnel used metallic tools to break into his vehicle. He was subsequently detained briefly and police used teargas to disperse his supporters.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Catherine Evans, Timothy Heritage and Alexandra Hudson)