- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda’s main opposition leader was released on bail yesterday, and greeted some 12,000 cheering supporters outside the courthouse where he is on trial on charges he says were fabricated to keep him out of next month’s presidential election.

Police fired bullets and tear gas outside the courthouse to scatter supporters who broke through a police cordon to greet Kizza Besigye as he left the court and waved from the open roof of a sport utility vehicle.

An Associated Press reporter saw military police beating some civilians. The army deployed armored personnel carriers in the city. Mr. Besigye told journalists he was concerned he would be rearrested.

Mr. Besigye, the first credible challenger to President Yoweri Museveni’s 19-year rule, is being tried in the civilian High Court on charges of treason and rape. He is charged by a military tribunal with terrorism and illegal possession of firearms.

He has denied the charges, which supporters say were trumped up to keep him from running against Mr. Museveni in February elections.

High Court Judge John Bosco Katutsi ordered Mr. Besigye released on bail yesterday, ruling that a military court order to detain him was illegal because it was issued after the High Court had suspended the military trial.

After the ruling, Mr. Besigye raised his hand and flashed a victory sign in court. Minor scuffles broke out when prison officers tried to keep him in custody, but Mr. Besigye managed to leave the chamber to sign release documents.

He returned briefly for a hearing on the rape charge, which was suspended until tomorrow because of tensions over his release.

Mr. Besigye was detained on the treason and rape charges in November, shortly after returning from self-imposed exile to campaign for the presidential election. The terrorism charges were filed later that month.

He could face the death penalty if convicted of either the terrorism or treason charges.

“We shall continue to struggle against oppression,” he said. ” … There are so many people in illegal detention like me, and we shall struggle by all possible means to restore good governance in this country.”

Mr. Museveni had been hailed as a reformist in a country that suffered the brutal tyranny of Idi Amin in the 1970s and 1980s. But his progressive credentials have been called into question as his term has reached nearly two decades.

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