Museveni "birthday party" ends in Ugandan arrests

KAMPALA Fri Jul 1, 2011 3:37pm BST

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan opposition activists carrying a cake and gifts were arrested by riot police after they tried to throw a public birthday party for the president to focus attention on his disputed age.

The group says President Yoweri Museveni is 73, not the 67 that is officially claimed, which would make him ineligible to run for office again. Under Ugandan law, candidates must be under 75 and the next presidential election is due in 2016.

"They were arrested because their intentions were not clear," police spokesman Vincent Ssekate said. "They could have disrupted business in that area and that place is out of bounds for political events."

About 20 activists marched towards a square in the centre of Kampala on Thursday evening with an iced cake wishing Museveni a happy 73rd birthday. They also had gifts that included doughnuts, crisps and mangoes, police said.

As they sang "Happy Birthday, Museveni" they were confronted by about 200 heavily armed riot police, witnesses said. The police quickly snatched the cake and gifts.

Three activist leaders were taken away. They were questioned and released on bond after a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, police said.

The opposition group told local media that they had not sought permission for the party because they wanted it to be a surprise for the president.

The activists say they can prove that Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and won a disputed election in February, is 73 from his school records and talking to his friends.

Many older people in African countries do not know their exact dates of birth because of a lack of proper records.

Ugandan police have been jittery about opposition protests since a bout of demonstrations over rising food and fuel prices plunged the country into chaos in April.

Nine people were shot dead by riot police and soldiers, according to rights group Human Rights Watch.

(Editing by David Clarke and Robert Woodward)

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