- - Thursday, May 12, 2011

KAMPALA — President Yoweri Museveni’s costly inauguration Thursday turned into embarrassment, as thousands thronged the streets to cheer opposition leader Kizza Besigye on his return from Kenya, where he was recovering from a beating by Ugandan police two weeks ago.

Mr. Museveni appeared stiff and distracted, as he took the presidential oath to serve a fourth term that will extend his rule to 30 years. It was a subdued ceremony attended by seven African heads of state, including Zimbabwe’s autocratic leader, Robert Mugabe.

Across town, crowds waving tree branches began flocking to Mr. Besigye’s three-car convoy as it slogged its way from the Entebbe airport toward the capital, Kampala.

As Mr. Museveni hailed his achievements as president in the areas of education, health and agricultural sectors, Besigye supporters cruised along Entebbe Road, holding signs that read “Jesus, come back today” or “Museveni must go.”

“Compare the crowds!” said David Guma, a jobless 26-year-old father of four, as convoys of dignitaries who attended Mr. Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony navigated Kampala streets lined with boisterous opposition supporters.

Kizza Besigye (background center right) waves to supporters beside his wife Winnie Byayima (left) as he returns from Nairobi after medical treatment on the day of the inauguration of his longtime political rival, President Yoweri Museveni. (Associated Press
Kizza Besigye (background center right) waves to supporters beside his wife Winnie ... more >

“Money may have bought Museveni an expensive swearing-in ceremony but it can’t buy support. This is the people’s voice.”

Mr. Museveni’s inauguration, which will cost taxpayers around $1.5 million, has stoked anger in this generally apolitical country of 30 million with runaway unemployment and 14 percent inflation.

The president, who won by a 68-percent majority in February’s election, has also tested voter patience with the purchase of Russian fighter jets at a cost of $740 million and government neglect over rising food and fuel prices.

The fractured opposition has tapped into that resentment by holding walk-to-work protests in recent weeks intended to peacefully voice discontent over inflation. Mr. Besigye led several of the protests.

Mr. Museveni’s security forces have violently squelched those demonstrations, leading to riots in at least five towns around the country and the killing of at least 10 unarmed civilians.

His regime had prevented Mr. Besigye from returning on a flight Wednesday from Nairobi, where he had been receiving treatment for a beating sustained by security forces April 28.

Thursday, however, police initially stood by calmly as thousands of Besigye supporters gathered to cheer his return.

At one point, they fired fire tear gas into a crowd after two young men threw stones at police from a nearby hillside. Police then beat passing motorcyclists with clubs and tree branches and smashed up several shops and kicked over abandoned motorcycles.

Elsewhere security forces were reportedly quicker to react. At about 6:30 pm, as Mr. Besigye’s convoy reached Kibuye neighborhood, police beat his supporters and chased them from the road.