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Vote-rigging reports cast shadow over Uganda poll

Vote-rigging reports cast shadow over Uganda poll

Ugandans may know on Tuesday who will lead them for the next five years, but reports of vote-rigging in the country's presidential election will cast a shadow over the results.

Unofficial results from each of the country's 17,500 polling stations began to be read out by private radio stations on Monday night after the polls closed, but it was too early to get a clear idea of which candidate was ahead.

President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the east African country since 1986, was the strong favourite to win a final term against his main challenger, Kizza Besigye.

Turnout was high - a senior member of Museveni's team estimated it at around 70 percent - reflecting a keenly fought race which has captivated Ugandans.

The Electoral Commission says it expects to announce the final results within 48 hours of polls closing at 5 p.m. (1400GMT) on Monday, although unofficial tallies on Tuesday are expected to give a clear indication of who has won.

The voting was calm in the capital and many parts of the country, but independent reports of vote rigging by Museveni's supporters in two of Uganda's 56 districts threw a cloud over the poll.

Anne Mugisha, a spokeswoman for Besigye, said his agents had been beaten up in the sub-county of Kambuga in Kanungu district, and local observers and foreign reporters corroborated the story.

"The agents of candidate Besigye were chased away from the polling stations... I think by supporters of the incumbent," said Reverend Gershom Muhanha of the local NEMGROUP monitors.

Muhanha told Reuters the same thing had happened in Wambara in nearby Rukungiri district "and this was witnessed by the American international observers".

A team of journalists said they had seen evidence of extensive vote rigging in Kambuga, with many people turning up at the polls to find their votes already cast for Museveni.

A senior official in the Electoral Commission was arrested in Kampala on Monday on suspicion of having distributed fake voters cards, a government official said, and several other arrests were made of people holding bundles of cards.

BITTER CAMPAIGN

Museveni took power as the head of a guerrilla army 15 years ago, and won 74 percent of the vote when he first went to the polls in 1996.

This time he faces a tougher challenge from Besigye, a former comrade. The campaign has been bitter, each side accusing the other of violence and trying to rig the vote.

When Museveni came to power, he ended a nightmare period during which hundreds of thousands of Ugandans were tortured and killed under the dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

Museveni rebuilt the economy, introduced free primary education, championed women's rights, and brought HIV/AIDS under control, in the process becoming a darling of the West.

He also banned political parties, which he blamed for ethnic and sectarian hatred, and governed instead as head of a "no party" movement.

But Besigye's challenge has been surprisingly strong, tapping disillusionment among Movement insiders and those left behind by the system.

Besigye was Museveni's doctor in the guerrilla army and became a senior figure in his government. But he grew unhappy with Museveni's autocratic leadership and his unwillingness to take advice or tackle corruption.


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