Ugandan lawyers plan three-day strike over crackdown

by Reuters
Tuesday, 3 May 2011 16:51 GMT

* Lawyers to converge on High Court with petition

* Angered by crackdown on protests

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA, May 3 (Reuters) - Ugandan lawyers plan to go on strike for three days from Wednesday in protest at the excessive use of force by police in quelling demonstrations over food and fuel prices, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Bruce Kyerere, president of the Uganda Law Society (ULS), said they had been outraged by the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and wanted to draw attention to escalating human rights abuses by security agencies in Uganda.

"We'll sit down for three days starting tomorrow, no going to the courts," he told Reuters.

"This is to make a statement of displeasure on police brutality and the conduct of judiciary in the manner in which they're handling cases of arrested demonstrators," he said.

Another senior Law Society member, Ladislas Rwakafuzi, said lawyers planned to converge on the High Court on Wednesday and hand over a petition to the Chief Justice with their grievances.

Last Thursday, security officials blocked Uganda's main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, as he drove to work, sparking a standoff that ended in his arrest after police smashed his car windows and doused him in pepper spray.

It was the fourth time he has been arrested for participating in demonstrations that started last month. Besigye is hospital in neighbouring Kenya to treat injuries to his eyes.

His arrest sparked riots in the capital Kampala and other towns on Friday that killed at least two people and injured scores.

"We're also protesting the conduct of the judiciary which has allowed itself to be manipulated in handling the cases of people who are exercising their right to peaceful assembly," said Kyerere.

Justine Atukwasa, a magistrate, drew widespread condemnation when she refused to grant Besigye bail after he was arrested during the fourth round of protests saying she was "too busy".

Besigye came second with 26 percent in February's presidential poll, losing to incumbent Yoweri Museveni for a third straight election.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Sunday asked the government to stop excessive use of force against unarmed demonstrators. She described Besigye's arrest as shocking and said it was government actions that were escalating otherwise peaceful protests into a national crisis. (Editing by David Clarke)

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