KAMPALA Uganda's main opposition leader, who has been leading anti-government protests for more than a month, is under effective house arrest after police surrounded his home on Monday, his party said.
Kizza Besigye has been the face of "walk to work" protests that urge people to leave their cars at home on Monday and Thursday to highlight soaring fuel and food prices. The protests in the east African country have been crushed by police.
"We consider Besigye under house arrest," Anne Mugisha, deputy foreign secretary of Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change party (FDC), told Reuters.
A heavy contingent of police blocked the road to Besigye's house on Monday, anticipating another protest, according to witnesses. But the opposition leader had decided not to walk due to a heavy flu, party officials said.
Mugisha said Besigye's wife Winnie Byanyima, a United Nations official, was blocked by police as she tried to drive to the airport on Monday to fly back to her office in New York.
"When Winnie tried to leave the house this morning the car was immediately blocked by police with water cannon trucks. They towed the car to the police station, opened it and were shocked to find he wasn't inside," Mugisha said.
Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakobo confirmed Byanyima's car had been taken to a police station. She said it was checked along with several other cars for security reasons and was only towed when the occupants refused to lower the windows.
"Police wanted to check on the vehicle, but they stayed inside and left the windows up when asked to lower them," Nabakobo said.
"So they towed it and opened it to find Byanyima and some other gentlemen. They should have introduced themselves."
Nabakoba said Besigye was not under official house arrest but, when asked if he was free to leave his house on Monday, she said: "It would depend on the circumstances."
"We are trying to prevent lawlessness," she said.
The protests started slowly but were boosted three weeks ago by the brutality of Besigye's fourth arrest since they began. His car was attacked by plainclothes men who smashed the windows with a gun and a hammer, doused him with pepper spray and hauled him onto a pick-up truck.
Riots erupted in Kampala and two other towns the following day as Besigye flew to Nairobi for treatment to eye injuries sustained from the pepper spray.
At least nine unarmed people were shot dead by military police during the riots, according to Human Rights Watch.
(Editing by David Clarke)