U.S. Calls for Release of Uganda’s Opposition Leader

KAMPALA, Uganda — The United States called for the release of Uganda’s opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, who has been under house arrest since Friday, before President Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a presidential election marred by widespread irregularities.

Mr. Museveni won last week’s vote with 60.75 percent of the vote, according to the electoral commission; Mr. Besigye had 35.37 percent.

“We call for his immediate release and the restoration of access to all social media sites,” the State Department said Saturday evening. “Delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying” and “excessive use of force by police” had undermined the vote, it said.

“The Ugandan people deserved better.”

Mr. Besigye was arrested Friday after the police stormed his party’s headquarters. He was there tallying votes, which his party said included wins at polling sites in Uganda’s north, Kampala, and other areas of the country. The election ran smoothly around the countryside, according to electoral observers, but not in Kampala, the capital city where opposition parties get much of their support. Voting there started up to seven hours late because the ballot papers were not available.

Mr. Besigye rejected the electoral commission’s results.

On Sunday, access to social-networking sites remained blocked. Equally as critical, mobile-money services — the equivalent of using a debit card — also remained blocked.

Both Mr. Besigye, as well as another candidate, Amama Mbabazi, the second-most popular challenger, and until recently the prime minister, remained under effective house arrest. Gen. Katumba Wamala was also said to be under scrutiny of the state, after results showed Mr. Museveni had not performed well at polls at army barracks. A Uganda army spokesman said soldiers are “free to choose anyone they want.”

“Democracy is on trial,” Mr. Besigye said on Twitter, through a virtual private network.

Everything seemed so different last weekend. In elegant dress and sharp suits, the country’s elite rubbed shoulders and cameras followed candidates on the red carpet, as Ugandans watched their president publicly debate politics for the first time. There were several sharp exchanges, but the historic moment was heralded as metamorphic.

Since then, Mr. Besigye has been arrested four times, and at least two people killed and over 20 injured in rioting enveloped in tear-gas, clubs, and military berets.

“The state can do even more,” President Museveni said, in response to clampdowns on communication. “People who think the state is something to joke, that is just a test.” He also hinted he would be ready to work with Mr. Besigye and Mr. Mbabazi, if they returned to his governing party, a sign that mediation from foreign powers could become effective.

On Sunday, Uganda’s streets remained empty. But another force was also at work: rain.

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