JULY 28, 2010: U.S. Warns Against Attack on Political Freedoms

U.S. Warns Against Attack on Political Freedoms

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Tabu Butagira

Kampala — The government should not use the July 11 terrorist attacks in Kampala as an excuse to stifle civil liberties and compromise democratic gains, a top American diplomat has cautioned.

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in President Barack Obama's government, said yesterday that opposition politicians and those from the ruling National Resistance Movement must freely participate in domestic political processes.

"We do not want to see a collapse or closing down of political space anywhere democracy exists," Ambassador Carson said during a press conference in Kampala. "We continue to urge that the democratic trajectory in Uganda and other parts of Africa continue to move upward, not sideways, and not certainly downwards."

This followed countrywide arrests by police yesterday of reported 80 opposition activists who, operating under the National Alliance for Free and Fair Elections, tried to demonstrate in demand for credible 2011 polls. The government last evening defended the police clampdown on grounds that "the terrorist threat is still with us."

Government's defiance

Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko said: "We are not going to compromise our security for anything, no. As NRM government, we are encouraging all types of freedoms and we shall protect and promote rights of all citizens. But nobody is going to use that as a pretext to terrorise Ugandans."

The US diplomat, who once served as US ambassador here, yesterday made a guarded U-turn on his 2005 criticism that President Museveni, by removing constitutional presidential term limits, was turning into a dictator like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

In a vitriolic opinion published by the Boston Globe newspaper on May 1, 2005, Ambassador Carson, wrote that: "While Museveni's reforms and leadership have led to stability and growth, his handling of two domestic issues threaten to disrupt the progress that Uganda has made over the last 15 years and to cast Museveni as just another African president unwilling to give up power."

Ambassador Carson, who five years ago accused President of having a "thirst for power", yesterday said "I do not believe that President Museveni is a dictator". "I think that President Museveni is the duly elected leader of the country that he's been elected openly and transparently in free and fair elections." He, however, stood by his comments that scrapping the two five-year presidential term limits, which later enabled Mr Museveni to successfully seek a third elective tenure, was wrong.

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