20 September 2017

Uganda: Army, Police Cordon Off Parliament

Unnerved by the escalating political tensions, authorities have thrown a heavy security blanket around the parliamentary buildings to stave off possible clashes between the promoters of the lifting of the presidential age limit and those opposed to it.

Large numbers of armed, watchful civil and military police, backed by covert surveillance personnel patrolled the grounds as well as Parliament and Nile Avenues yesterday.

Positioned at strategic points were water cannon trucks among other crowd control gear, bringing a warzone feel to the House precincts and surrounding areas.

Their presence has been interpreted as a not-so-subtle show of force by elements of the security forces, that those opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit say is meant to intimidate them.

At the end of back-to-back meetings, which drew in Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah, Clerk of Parliament Jane Kibirige and police chiefs, it was resolved that access to Parliament be restricted to the public.

A day earlier, the two Parliament heads met Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Frank Mwesigwa as security agencies increased their presence around Parliament.

On Tuesday morning, the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura also went to Parliament for a closed door meeting with the parliamentary leadership, further heightening the siege mentality.

Kayihura arrived shortly after 10am and hurried into Oulanyah's office on the 5th floor of the Eastern wing of the parliament buildings. He emerged an hour later to talk to his troops deployed around Parliament even as spontaneous acts of civil disobedience played out around the legislature.

These security meetings were held in anticipation of the tabling of a motion seeking to amend the Constitution and removal of the presidential age limit - a hugely divisive proposal.

The proposed amendment has stoked anxieties at a Parliament where some MPs, especially those opposed to it, are inviting the public to pour into the House to follow the proceedings live. In a brief chat with journalists, Kayihura defended the heavy deployments.

"The deployments are because some people want to disrupt the peace of Parliament, Parliament must transact business in peace [but] everybody is marching. They want to march on Parliament without even clearance from Parliament and police," Kayihura said.

He did not take any questions. The Observer, however, understood that in his meeting with Oulanyah, it was decided that the public gallery be closed to the public.

This was part of the instructions that Kayihura was overheard giving to his commanders at Parliament. The police have since become very suspicious of people standing in groups anywhere near Parliament.

THREATS

On Monday, four MPs opposed to the lifting of the constitutional presidential age limit were summoned to record statements at police over statements they made last week.

The MPs; Muhammad Nsereko (Independent, Kampala Central), Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM, Lwemiyaga), Allan Ssewanyana (DP, Makindye West) and Barnabas Tinkasiimire (NRM, Buyaga West) were required to report to the Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Directorate (CIID) Kibuli yesterday.

Mark Paul Odong of the police's directorate of criminal investigations said in the letters that the MPs are accused of offensive communication.

Ssekikubo and Tinkasiimire skipped their appointment with the police because they had "more important issues to attend to at Parliament" leaving only Nsereko and Ssewanyana to go to Kibuli for interrogation. They were later released without charge.

Opposition MPs criticised the police summons, arguing that they are unlawful since what MPs say within the precincts of Parliament is privileged and protected by guarantees of immunity under Chapter 6 of the Constitution.

"The arrest of MPs can't be accepted, no amount of intimidation, no level of deployment shall scare us," Kawempe South MP Mubarak Munyagwa said at an opposition press conference.

"I want to tell my NRM colleagues who are pushing for this amendment; if you don't trust your martial arts tactics, better get off this campaign. We are serious about this, we shall sort ourselves out one on one should that bill be tabled. You defeat us on the floor, we shall follow you, we know where you sleep," Munyagwa said.

The opposition caucus questioned the heavy deployment around Parliament.

"We are disappointed that the police is being used to address these political issues. In my constituency, a young man has died in police cells because he was opposed to the amendment. When I was walking into Parliament, I saw another man chained to the fence being brutalised by the police," Denis Lee Onguzu, the Maracha South MP, said.

At a parallel press conference yesterday, Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi, the designated mover of the anti-age limit bill, told journalists that the police came in after he filed a complaint.

"I was receiving text messages threatening me and my family, so, I ran to police and reported the case," Magyezi said.

The Igara West legislator, a ruling party member, is the chief mover of the controversial amendment, which once passed will clear the way for President Museveni to cling onto power after he tops the current age limit of 75 year ahead of the next election in 2021.

"This is not a Magyezi motion...I hear threats left and right but I would rather hear the arguments; I would love to see Ugandans move away from the culture of threats and insults," Magyezi said.

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