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Uganda Police Open Fire On Protesters Demanding Release Of Opposition Lawmaker


And now on to Uganda, where police today opened fire with bullets and tear gas on protesters demanding the release of a leading opposition lawmaker. That lawmaker is Bobi Wine. He also happens to be the country's most popular singer and a presidential contender. Wine was arrested and allegedly tortured last week. We caught up with NPR's Eyder Peralta at the airport in Nairobi. He's joining us now to discuss all of this. Hey, Eyder.


CHANG: So what exactly is behind these protests?

PERALTA: So you know, this has been building for a really long time in Uganda. You know, it started with a fight over the age limit. They want - the parliament wanted to raise the age limit to allow president Yoweri Museveni to serve, you know, for a long time or basically, you know, as the opposition says, to become a lifetime president. But this really came to a head right now with the lead opposition lawmaker, Bobi Wine. And he, you know, led a huge rally in the northern part of Uganda. And there, the government alleges that his people, Bobi Wine's people, attacked the president's convoy.

Bobi Wine was arrested. He was put in military barracks and apparently tortured, according to his lawyers. And so the people today were demanding his release. And there were hundreds of people out on the streets of Kampala. And the police came in along with the military and opened fire. And Kampala is the capital city, but these protests also extended into more rural areas, especially into the home of Francis Zaake, who is another opposition member who was beaten so bad he's in the hospital right now on life support.

CHANG: And how has the government responded to these growing protests? Have they said anything?

PERALTA: Yes. So president Yoweri Museveni says this was fake news, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Bobi Wine, that, you know, he doesn't have any broken bones, and he doesn't have anything wrong with him internally, which directly contradicts what Bobi Wine's lawyers and his family are saying, who got to see him.

CHANG: Well, what is Bobi Wine's family or his lawyers saying? Do they have information that he's actually in quite critical condition, or...?

PERALTA: They do. His wife did get in to see him. And she says that Bobi Wine cannot speak - not well, that he cannot comprehend what's being told to him and that he cannot even stand up.

CHANG: Wow. So what does this mean for President Museveni, who's - I mean, he's been in power for more than 30 years now. How much does this threaten his authority at this point?

PERALTA: I mean, we're not really sure. Museveni has dealt with insurgencies in the past, but not direct political insurgencies against him. And right now, there's, you know, thousands of people who have come out on the streets to support Bobi Wine, who we should say is really young. He's in his 30s. And right now, you know, there are thousands who are saying, we're sick of Yoweri Museveni. We're sick of the corruption. We want jobs, and we need things to change. So this seems very different than what we've seen in the past in Uganda.

CHANG: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you so much, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.