- - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

KAMPALA, Uganda | Voters who re-elected President Yoweri Museveni in a landslide in February never thought he would repay them by ordering soldiers to shoot them for walking to work.

More than 100 people were arrested and about 45 injured in a wave of civil disobedience over the past week, as disgruntled Ugandans walked to work to protest high fuel and food prices.

One man died after police shot tear gas into a demonstration.

With his violent crackdown on protests, Mr. Museveni even rekindled the political fortunes of his chief opponent, Kizza Besigye, who has been organizing the protests. Mr. Besigye won 26 percent of the vote in the presidential election.

Mr. Besigye gained publicity after being shot in the hand in a demonstration last week. He was among a dozen members of parliament arrested Monday in another protest.

Mr. Museveni’s reaction to the protests shocked some foreign observers.

“Museveni lost his mind last week,” a Western diplomat said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “Freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights and a critical component of functioning democracies.”

Mr. Museveni, president for 25 years, remained defiant.

“There will be no demonstrations in Kampala,” he said Saturday. “If Besigye wants to walk for exercise, let him do it somewhere else.”

He blamed a drought and a global oil crisis for the high prices and for inflation, which is running at about 11 percent a year. The price of corn is up 114 percent from last year.

“What I call on the public to do is to use fuel sparingly. Don’t drive to bars,” Mr. Museveni said.

He did not say whether he encouraged them to walk.

Some political observers said Mr. Museveni is looking nervously at the upheaval in Arab North Africa, where angry crowds have topped autocratic leaders and a civil war is raging in Libya.

“My worry is the cumulative way the government is looking at things,” said Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer in international relations and security studies at Kampala’s Makerere University, where rowdy students protesting a proposed fee increase were met with tear gas last week.

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