KAMPALA (Reuters) - At least five Ugandan lawmakers received hospital treatment for injuries sustained while being dragged out of the parliament by plain-clothes security guards that opposition MPs said were really soldiers from President Yoweri Museveni’s special forces.
The clashes erupted in the chamber on Tuesday and Wednesday over a motion to end a constitutional limit on the president’s age, effectively allowing 73-year-old Museveni, one of Africa’s most entrenched “Big Men”, to extend his 31 years in power.
Reinforcing lawmakers’ suggestions that soldiers had been involved in the incidents, television footage showed Uganda’s special forces commander was in parliament just before dozens of MPs were forcibly removed.
Ugandan authorities have not commented on the suggestions.
Rights groups denounced the incidents as a violation of the parliament’s bar on police or soldiers entering the chamber.
“In effect what happened was an overthrow of the constitutional order,” said Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer and political analyst.
One of the ejected MPs, Gaffa Mbwatekamwa, sported a cracked left arm in bandages and a sling as he described his ordeal.
“These guys grabbed me from behind and one twisted my arm. I started screaming and another one squeezed my balls,” he told Reuters at a Kampala hospital where he was visiting a fellow injured legislator.
He and other MPs said they had also been punched and kicked by the security guards. Mbwatekamwa added that some of the alleged guards were recognised as members of the armed forces.
That claim was backed up by footage aired on Thursday by the private NTV Uganda channel of Special Forces Command (SFC) Colonel Don Nabasa pacing the corridors of parliament moments before the security guards burst into the chamber.
Police chief Kale Kayihura also told the NBS television channel police had enlisted the help of “sister” security agencies to clear parliament, a term frequently used by police to refer to the armed forces.
Police spokesman Asan Kasigye denied legislators had been beaten by security personnel. A spokesman for the Special Forces Command said he could not comment beyond the statement from the police chief.
U.S. ambassador Deborah Malac criticised the “rough treatment” of the lawmakers and said she expected them to be treated “humanely”.
Despite the growing cries of autocracy against Museveni, Washington has backed him as a strongman who has turned Uganda into a bulwark of stability in Africa’s troubled Great Lakes region.
Nabasa’s predecessor as head of the special forces was Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who many Ugandans believe is being groomed as a successor to his father. Uganda’s next election is in 2021.
Museveni’s moves to extend his term mirror similar attempts in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, where they have sparked serious political instability, including armed insurrection.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Ed Cropley and Gareth Jones