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Two dead after troops open fire to quell unrest over fire at revered tombs

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-17

Two people died on Wednesday when Ugandan security forces opened fire to quell unrest following allegations that arsonists had set fire to royal tombs near Kampala that are revered by the Baganda people, Uganda's largest tribe.

AFP - Two people died Wednesday as Ugandan security forces opened fire to quell unrest amid allegations that arsonists set fire to UN-listed royal tombs near Kampala.
The fire on Tuesday night destroyed much of the 128-year-old tombs which are revered by the Baganda people, Uganda's largest tribe centred in Kampala and in the south of the country.
It triggered skirmishes throughout the night between angry young supporters of Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, their traditional ruler, and anti-riot police.
Trouble came to a head when protestors tried to prevent Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni from visiting the fire-ravaged site just south of Kampala on Wednesday.
The demonstrators booed Museveni, brandished placards denouncing his regime and set up barricades as his motorcade was approaching the tombs.
Fearing more violence, security forces opened fire, but said they only shot into the air and not at the crowds, before the president's motorcade arrived.
"There was a group that confronted security at the scene before the arrival of the president. They were violent, when they confronted us we shot in the air to disperse them," Ugandan Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba told AFP.
Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye said two of the protestors were shot dead and five others injured but did not say who was responsible for the deaths.
Despite the protests Museveni continued to the site, his security beefed up by four light armoured vehicles and hundreds of soldiers riding on pick ups.     "I am suspicious. This could be arson," Museveni told the tomb caretakers as he toured the charred site.
"The problem is the place has been tampered with. ... but we are going to investigate and get to the cause."
An official in his entourage was roughed up by demonstrators who accused the government of being behind the fire.  
After the president left the scene, thousands of Bagandan supporters marched into the tombs accusing the government of torching the site.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation said was dismayed by this "tragic event that devastated the site and its related symbolic values".
"UNESCO is ready to mobilize international experts to help the Ugandan authorities in assessing the damage and envisaging remedial actions," the agency said.
Businesses in the city centre remained open, but shops closed in the surbubs as hordes of youths converged on major roads, watched over by the security forces.
Peter Mayiga, a spokesman for the Buganda kingdom, described the fire as "an attack on Buganda".
In September an attempt by the authorities to stop the Baganda king from visiting an area near Kampala sparked running battles in the streets of the capital, which saw police fire tear gas and live ammunition.
The kabaka, or the Baganda ruler, had been expected at a Baganda youth day celebration in an area where a minority ethnic group, the Banyala, is seeking to break away from his rule.
The Uganda government had sought to prevent the kabaka from attending, saying it feared bloodshed if he did so.
"This fire is very strange given what we (the Baganda) have been going through," Mayiga said.
Uganda's police chief, Major General Kale Kayihura, described as "absolute falsehood" reports that the government was behind the arson.
The tombs were declared a World Heritage Site in 2001. The tombs are a spiritual symbol for the Baganda people, and many go there for ritual ceremonies.
Uganda has two other listed sites, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Ruwenzori Mountains National Park.

Date created : 2010-03-17