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Uganda's longtime president wins re-election

NAIROBI, Kenya—Uganda's president extended his 20-year-rule Saturday by comfortably winning an election that observers said was mostly fair despite his leading opponent's charges of fraud.

With nearly all votes counted from Thursday's contest, election officials said Yoweri Museveni had 59 percent to 37 percent for Kizza Besigye, a longtime opponent recently returned from exile.

Supporters clad in the signature bright yellow of Museveni's ruling Movement party celebrated in the streets of the East African country as Besigye's campaign considered whether to challenge the results in court.

Uganda's first multiparty election was a rerun of the 2001 presidential race, in which Museveni beat Besigye by 41 percentage points. That vote was marred by serious fraud and intimidation of opposition supporters.

A European Union observer mission said this election was more peaceful and transparent than in 2001, but still cited problems, including voters turned away from polling stations, biased coverage by government-owned media, and the November arrest of Besigye on rape and treason charges, which forced him to run much of his campaign from a courtroom or jail cell.

Museveni's government rejected claims of fraud and played down the impact of Besigye's arrest, which led Western donors to withdraw millions of dollars in support to the Ugandan government.

"The man was campaigning, was he not?" Mary Okurut, a spokeswoman for Museveni's Movement party, said of Besigye. "We have always said that no matter how free and fair our election was, the opposition would cry foul."

Museveni, who had Uganda's law on term limits lifted so he could run this year, earned another five-year term that will make him one of Africa's longest-serving elected leaders. Analysts said his win could pave the way for other leaders to prolong their rule on a continent where democracy is still taking root.

They pointed to troubling developments elsewhere in Africa: the decision by Chad's president, Idriss Deby, to seek a third term has further destabilized his destitute nation, while in fractious Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo's flirtation with a third term is blamed for violence and deepening ethnic rifts.

"It's a trend that we don't welcome at all," said Suliman Baldo, Africa director of the International Crisis Group research agency. "It deprives people of choice, as incumbents tend to use their power to harass the opposition—look what Museveni did to decrease the fair chances of Besigye."

In its preliminary statement on the election, the EU observer mission said Uganda should reinstate the two-term limit. The Ugandan government called that remark an "unacceptable interference" in domestic affairs.

Museveni, 62, who took power in 1986 in a military coup, won praise in the 1990s for stabilizing Uganda, instituting reforms that made it one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, and reducing the rate of HIV infection.

But his entire term in office has been marred by a 20-year civil war in northern Uganda that has displaced nearly 2 million people.

Officials with Besigye's party, the Forum for Democratic Change, said the 49-year-old candidate hadn't decided by Saturday evening whether to mount a legal challenge. But Daniel Ogalo Wandera, the party's legal affairs director, said the party had amassed many reports of irregularities from polling stations throughout the country.

"There are very good grounds to take this matter to court," he said.


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): UGANDA-ELECTION

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