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Friday, March 19, 2010

Government of Uganda: Don't blame M7 for deaths

KAMPALA - The government has defended President Museveni over the fatal gunfire on Wednesday at Kasubi tombs, saying rowdy Buganda subjects who pelted soldiers with stones provoked the shooting.

However, a Buganda minister said Mr Museveni decided to tour the mausoleum, destroyed by fire on Tuesday, against the kingdom’s advice.

In a rejoinder, information minister Kabakumba Masiko said on Thursday night that the President does not require permission to visit Kasubi tombs. "Whereas some former Buganda kings are buried there, the Kasubi site is national heritage and international treasure gazetted by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation," she said.

In the wake of Tuesday’s mysterious fire that engulfed the Muzibu Azaala Mpanga mausoleum housing the remains of the fallen kings, thousands of subjects have been flocking to 'mourn' the destruction of the royal tombs. Many of the agitated youths on Wednesday pelted the President’s advance security team with stones, injuring several and provoking them to shoot in “self-defense”, Defence Spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye said.

Buganda Information/Cabinet Affairs Minister Charles Mayiga said the President ignored the kingdom’s advice to suspend his impromptu visit to the royal tombs before Kabaka Ronald Mutebi. "We strongly condemn the excessive force which was used by the army resulting into the loss of lives of innocent people," he said. "In the Ganda culture, it’s the mourners who are supposed to receive visitors who come to say sorry and not the opposite. The deployment of the army at the tombs was not necessary because this was a mourning moment.”

Mr John Nagenda, the president’s senior advisor on media, said those criticising Mr Museveni over the Wednesday visit are forgetting "so soon who restored the kingdom." The NRM government restored Buganda Kingdom and the Kabakaship in 1993 to the delight of the Baganda, 27 years after late President Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress government abolished all kingdoms in the country following a fallout with Mengo.

"He (Mr Museveni) went to pay his respect at Kasubi tombs and I don’t see anything wrong with that," Mr Nagenda said. "The President of our country can go anywhere at any time and this kind of suspicion is wrong."

The government, through the Uganda Media Centre, announced on Wednesday that three of seven people shot at Kasubi had died while one was already discharged from Mulago Hopsital. According to Mr Dick Kasolo, the Kabaka’s press secretary, Buganda Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi and the Kabaka were supposed to tour the ruined Kasubi tombs at midday on Wednesday but Mr Museveni’s sudden arrival interrupted the royal schedule.

Several of the Buganda subjects on Wednesday booed the President and used reed-pole barricades to prevent him from accessing the graves of the fallen kings. "The encouragement of the gathering to be rowdy borders on hooliganism and isn’t right," Ms Masiko said. "The priority now is to find out what exactly caused the fire outbreak."

Earlier, President Museveni said of the inferno: "I don’t know but I am a bit suspicious whether there was no deliberate act [to torch the burial place] because the people who stay here said they saw fire from behind there."

Buganda and the central government have had strained relations on issues relating to politics, land and power. Last September the government stopped the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga sparking riots that left 27 people dead. The Kabaka had been scheduled to preside over the youth day celebrations but was stopped on grounds that the government could not guarantee his security while in Kayunga.

The President last year said the Kabaka had refused to answer his calls for a period of over two years.

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