KAMPALA, Uganda, May 12 – Uganda\’s President Yoweri Museveni was sworn in for a fourth term on Thursday as his rival Kizza Besigye returned home to a tumultuous welcome following treatment in Kenya after a police beating.
The 66-year-old Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, took the oath of office before a crowd of thousands of supporters and the leaders of a host of African countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
"I, Yoweri Museveni, swear in the name of all-mighty God that I will be faithful, swear allegiance to the people and to the Republic of Uganda and that I will preserve and protect the Constitution, so help me God," he said.
His oath, taken at a ceremony at an airstrip in central Kampala, was followed by a gun salute.
Thousands also turned out to welcome home opposition leader Besigye, Museveni\’s strongest challenger in the February 18 elections which the incumbent won comfortably but opposition groups said was fraudulent.
Dr Besigye, who has lost elections to Museveni three times in a row, flew in from neighbouring Kenya where he spent several days for treatment after being hurt by police during an anti-government protest last month.
"I am happy that even when I was not around the defiance campaign continued," he told a handful of journalists on his arrival at the airport, which he left in a convoy under police escort.
The convoy advanced at walking pace followed by supporters on motorcycles, while others lined the road in their thousands, cheering and waving greenery.
The Forum for Democratic Change party leader, wearing a blue shirt and with his arm in a sling following a gunshot wound to the finger, waved at the crowd who danced to loud music as his convoy crawled forward.
One supporter carried a placard reading: "Besigye must be sworn in as president today."
At one point, military police forced all motorbike taxis heading towards the airport to turn around and fired tear gas at a crowd of supporters.
Party officials said Dr Besigye would stop off to address supporters along the way into the capital. He has vowed to continue anti-government protests despite a police crackdown which has seen at least nine people shot dead by security forces.
The veteran opposition leader last month embarked on a series of "walk to work" protests against soaring food and fuel prices which the opposition blames on the government.
Dr Besigye, 55, was attacked by police in one such demonstration on April 28. Police smashed the windows of his car, sprayed him with tear gas and arrested him for the fourth time in a month for participating in demonstrations.
He went to neighbouring Kenya the following day.
Dr Besigye won 26 percent of the vote in February\’s election, the biggest challenge yet to Museveni, who has ruled the east African country since 1986. Dr Besigye\’s party challenged the official results, which gave 68 percent of the vote to Museveni, alleging widespread fraud.
Opposition leaders, including Besigye himself, have been released on bail after they were arrested in recent protests.
But Museveni, a former guerrilla leader, told reporters on Tuesday that he planned to introduce constitutional amendments that would see bail prohibited for certain charges, including rioting and economic sabotage.
At least nine people were shot dead by security forces during the demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch, which called for a inquiry on the grounds that some of the victims were shot in the back and not even taking part.
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