KAMPALA (Reuters) - The leading challenger to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said on Tuesday he had no confidence that elections this week would be free or fair, as all the major candidates held huge rallies in the capital Kampala to mark the end of the campaign.
Kizza Besigye, a long-time opposition leader who has lost three previous elections, told reporters the “overwhelming enthusiasm” for change after three decades of Museveni rule “has caused panic in the no-change camp”.
“That is why, yesterday, elements of the Uganda police and other security agencies unleashed violence on our supporters and sabotaged our campaign in Kampala,” he said. “The election has no chance of being free and fair.”
Besigye spoke a day after police stormed a campaign rally with teargas and briefly held him in custody. One person died in the chaos and at least 19 others were injured.
Police also said that Besigye’s supporters had been on a rampage, looting and damaging property.
It was the worst violence since the campaign opened three months ago and heightened tensions before the Thursday’s presidential and parliamentary votes.
The election is expected to be one of the toughest yet for Museveni, 71, an ally of the West who came to power in 1986 after waging a five-year guerrilla war.
Critics say voters have grown impatient with high unemployment and the poor state of the country’s schools and health centers, giving fresh life to Museveni’s challengers.
The United States last week supported calls for a peaceful, transparent and credible vote.
Eduard Kukan, the head of the European Union’s observer mission in Uganda, said the use of force was “not helping the election atmosphere”.
Museveni, Besigye and a second major challenger, former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, all staged their final rallies on Tuesday, a national holiday.
Museveni addressed a huge crowd in central Kampala, resplendent in the signature neon yellow of his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, and predicted a smooth vote.
Besigye, who has blasted Museveni for running a government of patronage that neglects Uganda’s poor, held a final rally at sunset in a field close to the police headquarters. Despite heavy police presence, the rally went ahead without incident.
Besigye, who has been repeatedly detained by police, has said he is a frequent target of government intimidation tactics and has accused Museveni of rigging polls and using state funds to prop up his party.
He declined to alter his campaign schedule following the violence on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong.
Officials say Besigye has simply been punished for engaging in illegal behavior, such as breaking rules on where and when campaign activities were allowed.
Editing by Alison Williams