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Israel’s Netanyahu in Uganda to start 4-nation Africa tour

July 04, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s raid on Uganda’s Entebbe airport 40 years ago, in which his brother was killed, “changed the course” of his life. Speaking shortly after his arrival in Uganda, Netanyahu praised Israel’s commando raid on the airport which freed Israeli hostages from a hijacked plane. “International terrorism suffered a stinging defeat,” from the mission in July 1976.

The Entebbe rescue is a seminal event in Israeli history and is widely seen as one of the country’s greatest military successes. It also was a monumental event for Netanyahu, as the death of his brother, Yonatan, pushed him into the public eye and on a track that would take him to the country’s highest office.

An Israeli band played somber tunes at the airport on the shore of Lake Victoria to mark the anniversary of the Israeli rescue mission, during which three hostages were killed. A relative of one of the Israeli hostages lit a memorial flame as Netanyahu and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stood in silence.

Netanyahu traveled to Uganda with soldiers and pilots who were members of the rescue team. “This is a deeply moving day for me,” he said. “Forty years ago they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists. Today we landed in broad daylight in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.”

Netanyahu’s visit to Uganda starts his four-nation tour of Africa. “After many decades, I can say unequivocally Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel,” he said. “All of our peoples will benefit greatly from our growing partnership.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said his government opposes the “indiscriminate use of violence” as well as bigotry. He said Uganda’s government supports a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“The two of you belong to that area,” Museveni said, urging both sides to live “side by side in two states … in peace and with recognized borders.” The one-day visit to Uganda is the start of Netanyahu’s tour of Africa during which he will also visit Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Later on Monday Netanyahu will attend a summit of regional leaders focusing on security. In exchange for its expertise in security and other fields, Israel wants African states to side with it at the U.N., where the General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as a nonmember observer state in 2012. Israel also has a shared interest with the four African countries of confronting Islamic extremists.

Uganda’s Entebbe Airport is where Netanyahu’s brother, Yonatan, was struck by a bullet as he led Israeli commandos in a daring rescue mission to rescue hijacked Israeli passengers. Israel’s success in the raid humiliated then-Ugandan President Idi Amin.

Four decades later, Uganda has good relations with Israel, which is courting allies to counter Palestine’s rising influence at the United Nations. While in Uganda Netanyahu will also attend a security-themed summit of regional leaders, including those from Kenya and Tanzania, said Don Wanyama, a spokesman for Uganda’s president.

Although the rescue mission breached Uganda’s territorial integrity, Amin, who had taken power by force and ruled as a dictator, had become an increasingly isolated figure and would soon be forced out of power with the help of Tanzanian forces. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni himself led one of several exile groups that waged a guerrilla war against Amin.

A lingering loathing of Amin, who was accused of many human rights atrocities and who died in Saudi Arabia in 2003, is one reason why many Ugandans today do not see the success of the Israeli raid — in which many Ugandan soldiers were killed and military equipment destroyed — as a disaster for Uganda. Yonatan Netanyahu was shot dead as he helped the Israeli hostages who had been held inside the airport terminal back onto the plane. His death made Yonatan an Israeli hero, and thrust Netanyahu toward public life.

Still, some Ugandans say Netanyahu’s historic visit should be a moment to mourn the Ugandan victims of the operation. Moses Ali, Uganda’s deputy prime minister who served as a government minister under Amin, told Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper that the rescue mission should not be celebrated by Ugandans.

“If you are siding with Israelis, then you can celebrate because it was their victory,” he said. “If you are not, then you should be mourning our dead ones.” Netanyahu will also be visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia this week.

Israel wants African states to side with it at the U.N., where the General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as a nonmember observer state in 2012. The Palestinians have used their upgraded status to launch a diplomatic offensive against Israel and its occupation of lands where the Palestinians hope to establish a future state.

“Israel has been on a mission to repair its image globally and more specifically within the U.N. where the Africa group has for decades now supported the Palestinian cause, and vote in general toward that end,” said Angelo Izama, a Ugandan analyst who runs a think tank called Fana Kwawote.

As a key U.S. ally on regional security, especially in violence-prone Somalia, Uganda is an attractive ally for Israel as well, according to Izama. “Washington views the Museveni administration as a regional hegemon, a key to the security of the wider region. Uganda’s involvement in counter-terrorism in Somalia … and its significant expenditure on security goods, including arms and technology, are another reason” for Netanyahu’s visit, he said.

Netanyahu’s African trip has generated some controversy at home, due to the large size of his delegation, as well as the personal nature of the visit. In an editorial published Monday, the Haaretz daily praised Netanyahu for strengthening Israel’s ties with Africa, but suggested that he was largely driven by his own emotional involvement. “Despite the expected success of the diplomatic and economic contacts, it’s hard to shake off the impression that the entire trip would not be taking place were it not for Netanyahu’s desire to take advantage of his official position in order to conduct a ceremony in the old Entebbe airport,” it wrote.

AP writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Uganda, South Korea leaders sign co-operation agreements

May 29, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda and South Korea signed cooperation agreements Sunday that officials here hope will lead to transfer of technology as Uganda tries to implement an ambitious industrialization program.

The memorandums of understanding in areas such as health and education were signed at Uganda’s State House in Entebbe, where visiting South Korean leader Park Geun-hye and her delegation were given a banquet. Details of the agreements were not yet available.

“There is a great potential for co-operation between South Korea and Uganda for the mutual benefit of both countries,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said during the banquet, according to his office.

Uganda is the second leg of Park’s Africa visit, during which she has focused on trade and business. In a speech Friday before the African Union in Ethiopia, Park urged African leaders to support international efforts to denuclearize rival North Korea.

Uganda has good diplomatic relations with North Korea, which has recently been training Ugandan security forces. Museveni said Sunday that he supports the peaceful reunification of Korea. Park’s next stop is Kenya.

Uganda: Opposition leader remanded to maximum security jail

May 18, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s opposition leader was remanded Wednesday to a maximum security prison in the capital after being charged with treason for organizing protests against the re-election of long-time President Yoweri Museveni.

Kizza Besigye briefly appeared in a magistrate’s court in Kampala to be charged before he was driven away under heavy guard to a jail on the shores of Lake Victoria. Besigye was charged afresh after being transferred from Moroto, where had been detained after the treason charges were first read to him last week, said Solomon Muyita, a spokesman for the judiciary. Treason has a maximum penalty of death upon conviction. Besigye will return to court on June 1.

Besigye came second in presidential elections held in February, but rejected the official results as fraudulent and called for an international audit of the results, one of the reasons cited for charging him with treason.

The polls were marred by violence and delays in delivery of voting materials in areas seen as opposition strongholds, as well as a government shutdown of social media. Election observers cited many irregularities, with the European Union delegation saying the election commission lacked independence.

Uganda’s top court heard a petition against Museveni’s victory and ruled he was validly re-elected. Despite the court’s decision, Besigye has urged his supporters to wage a defiance campaign over the disputed polls as well as what he says is harassment by the security forces.

Besigye has been repeatedly arrested by the police, who sometimes detain him inside his own home. Museveni, who took power by force in 1986, has been elected five times since 1996. All the elections have been marred by allegations of rigging.

Ugandan opposition leader charged with treason over protests

May 14, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s main opposition leader has been charged with treason and jailed in a remote area in the country’s northeast, a judiciary spokesman said Saturday. Kizza Besigye was handed charges late Friday stemming from his public attacks on the legitimacy of President Yoweri Museveni, who won a disputed election in February, said Solomon Muyita.

Besigye, a qualified physician, was Museveni’s personal doctor during the guerrilla war that launched Museveni into power in 1986. He held various government positions and rose to become a colonel in the army, but then broke ranks with Museveni in 1999.

Besigye ran for president in 2001, promising a more democratic government, and has challenged Museveni in elections since then. He claims he won the February vote and has repeatedly urged his supporters to wage a defiance campaign against the authorities.

There is a video online purportedly showing Besigye being sworn in as Uganda’s president. The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify the authenticity of the video, but Besigye’s party, the Forum for Democratic Change, reported on Twitter that Besigye had been sworn in on the eve of Museveni’s inauguration for a fifth term.

Muyita cited the alleged inauguration of Besigye as one of the reasons for the treason charge, which carries a maximum penalty of death on conviction. Besigye was charged in the district of Moroto, where he had been flown after being arrested on Wednesday in the capital Kampala.

His lawyer didn’t answer calls seeking a comment Saturday.

Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni wins disputed polls; rival detained

February 20, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Long-time Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of the presidential election, with more than 60 percent of the votes, but the main opposition party rejected the results as fraudulent.

Museveni’s nearest rival, opposition leader Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change party, got 35 percent, according to final results announced by the election commission. Besigye himself was under house arrest as Museveni was declared the winner, with heavily armed police standing guard near his residence on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala.

Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, urged “all candidates to respect the will of the people and the authority of the electoral commission and accept the result. We ask all Ugandans to remain calm and peaceful and not to engage in any public disruptions.” The party released the statement shortly after the results were announced.

However Besigye’s opposition party appealed to “all Ugandans and the international community to reject and condemn the fraud that has been committed and to expose it to the fullest extent possible. Clearly what we are witnessing in the choreographed announcements of the fraudulent results is part of a creeping political coup d’état.”

The election on Thursday was marred by lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials, some incidents of violence as well as a government shutdown of social media which is ongoing. The election was marked by an “intimidating atmosphere, which was mainly created by state actors,” said the European Union observer mission. Uganda’s election commission lacks independence and transparency and does not have the trust of all the parties, EU mission leader Eduard Kukan told reporters Saturday. Opposition supporters were harassed by law enforcement officials in more than 20 districts, according to the EU’s preliminary report.

Police on Friday surrounded the headquarters of the FDC opposition party as Besigye met with members and a helicopter fired tear gas at a crowd outside. Police then moved in and took away Besigye, a 59-year-old doctor. He was later taken to his house which was guarded by police who prevented access to journalists.

After Besigye’s arrest on Friday, his supporters took to the streets. Riot police lobbed tear gas and stun grenades at them and fired warning shots from automatic rifles, then chased them through narrow alleys, arresting some.

Besigye’s party is alleging massive vote rigging and accuses the government of deliberately stalling voting in opposition strongholds in Kampala and the neighboring Wakiso district. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone with Museveni “to underscore that Uganda’s progress depends on adherence to democratic principles in the ongoing election process,” the State Department said. Kerry urged Museveni to rein in the security forces.

The 71-year-old Museveni took power by force in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos after a guerrilla war. He is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. Critics fear he may want to rule for life and they accuse him of using security forces to intimidate the opposition.

Besigye was Museveni’s personal physician during the bush war and served as deputy interior minister in his first Cabinet. He broke with the president in 1999, saying Museveni was no longer a democrat.

Uganda opposition leader under house arrest amid tensions

February 20, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s security forces on Saturday put the main opposition candidate under house arrest to prevent him from leading protests as the country awaited the results of a disputed election.

Police took “preventive measures” against Kizza Besigye to stem further unrest, police spokesman Fred Enanga told The Associated Press. The elections on Thursday were marred by late delivery of polling materials, sporadic violence and a government shutdown of social media. Partial results from about 75 percent of the vote show long-time President Yoweri Museveni leading with over 60 percent against Besigye’s 35 percent.

The final tally is expected later on Saturday. Police on Friday surrounded the headquarters of Besigye’s party, the Forum for Democratic Change, as Besigye met with party members, and a helicopter fired tear gas at a crowd outside. Police then moved in and took Besigye, a 59-year-old doctor, to an unknown location. He was later taken to his house overnight.

Besigye’s party has alleged massive vote rigging, and has accused the government of deliberately stalling voting in areas seen as opposition strongholds and orchestrating violence. “We have to contain the situation,” Enanga said. “We have reasonable cause to prevent him from promoting actions of violence.”

Police prevented journalists from accessing Besigye’s home on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala. After Besigye’s arrest on Friday, his supporters took to the streets. Riot police lobbed tear gas and stun grenades at them and fired warning shots from automatic rifles, then chased them through narrow alleys, arresting some.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone with Museveni “to underscore that Uganda’s progress depends on adherence to democratic principles in the ongoing election process,” the State Department said. Kerry urged Museveni to rein the security forces.

The 71-year-old Museveni took power by force in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos after a guerrilla war. He is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. Critics fear he may want to rule for life, and they accuse him of using security forces to intimidate and harass the opposition.

Besigye was Museveni’s personal physician during a war and served as deputy interior minister in his first Cabinet. He broke with the president in 1999, saying Museveni was no longer a democrat.

Voting in Uganda plagued by delays; social media shut down

February 18, 2016

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — After delays blamed on slow delivery of voting materials, Ugandans cast ballots Thursday in presidential elections amid a shutdown of some social media sites. Even at noon, five hours after voting was supposed to start, some polling stations in the capital, including a major one, still had not received any voting papers. People had formed long lines and ballot boxes had arrived mid-morning, but still there were no ballots, so no one could vote.

President Yoweri Museveni faces a strong challenge from Kizza Besigye, who has called Museveni a dictator and said he doubts that voting will be free or fair. Many people complained of an apparent shutdown of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook when they couldn’t open those sites on their computers and phones.

Godfrey Mutabazi, the head of the Uganda Communications Commission, said the network failure was likely due to an ongoing operation to contain a security threat. “It’s a security matter and I cannot answer on behalf of security,” he told The Associated Press.

Some observers suspected it was to keep people from publicly griping about the late delivery of voting materials. More than 15 million people are registered to vote, for members of parliament as well as president.

Some ballot boxes had missing lids. Voting officials frantically made calls. “We are late simply because the lids for ballot boxes are not here. The boxes and the lids should have arrived at the same time,” said Moses Omo, an official who was presiding over voting at a Catholic church in the central Ugandan district of Wakiso.

Many of those waiting said they would not leave without voting. “This is very disappointing but I am going to stay here under the sun until it is my turn to vote,” said Fred Mubiru, a taxi driver. “Nothing will discourage me.”

Although opinion polls had shown Museveni to be ahead of his opponents, analysts expect this election to be his toughest yet, citing the massive crowds Besigye attracted across the country. Museveni, 71, remains popular in some parts of rural Uganda, where he is seen as a father figure and is beloved by those who remember his time as a guerrilla leader fighting a dictatorship.

He came to power in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos. He is widely credited with restoring peace and presiding over economic growth, and is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. But his critics worry that he may want to rule for life, and accuse him of using the security forces to intimidate the opposition.

Besigye, 59, is running for the fourth time against Museveni. He campaigned on a promise to run a more effective government, vowing to stem official corruption. He said he will continue “the struggle” in other ways if he loses, suggesting a protest movement similar to the one that followed the last election in 2011. That movement was violently put down by security forces.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said a weak “human rights situation seriously undermines the prospects of free and fair elections and the ability of Ugandans to exercise fundamental human rights such as free expression, assembly, and association.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also reported “a worsening pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists” in Uganda. Ahead of the polls, there has been a heavy security presence in Kampala, with heavily armed police patrolling the streets and armored vehicles parked at key junctions.

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