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Uganda: Voting slow, security high

High security in Kampala as Yoweri Museveni prepares to extend his 25-year rule.

KAMPALA, Uganda — Voting was slow in Uganda’s presidential election Friday in which President Yoweri Museveni is widely predicted to extend his 25-year rule against his main opponent, a man he has defeated in two previous votes.

In downtown Kampala a morning haze hid the rising sun, women and men swept yesterday’s garbage into the gutters with straw brooms and electoral officials laid out desks and ballot boxes ready for the voters. But there were few of them.

One of the first to vote at an outdoor polling station set up in the car park of a shopping mall was Moses Jabo who, like many in Kampala, an opposition stronghold, supports Kizza Besigye, a former friend of and doctor to Museveni, who is running for the four-party opposition coalition, Inter-Party Cooperation.

Jabo, who comes from the north of the country, accused Museveni of ruling in the interests of his own ethnic group that hails from western Uganda. “Museveni is one-sided, he only rules for Westerners, he doesn’t care about us in the north,” he said.

For the first two decades of Museveni’s rule a brutal rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, terrorized northern Uganda forcing up to 2 million people to live in the squalor of huge camps for displaced people. Peace has returned to the region in recent years after the rebels were pushed into neighboring countries.

Although Uganda has attracted international attention over proposed anti-homosexual legislation that calls for the death penalty for some gay acts, neither Museveni nor opposition candidates focused their campaigns on the issue.

The streets of this usually traffic-clogged capital were transformed on Friday: There were few cars on the roads and the city felt like a ghost town except for the squads of police in new blue camouflage fatigues and armed with AK47s who walked the sidewalks or sat in knots on street corners. Pick-up trucks full of soldiers and police cruised the streets to deter any unrest and, say security officials, protect the population against any repeat of the terrorist bombings that killed more than 70 people in July.

Throughout his campaign opposition leader Besigye has threatened to order his supporters into the streets in emulation of the popular protests that have toppled long-standing leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

After casting his vote in Rukungiri, the western Uganda region where he was born, Besigye reiterated the threat. "This time we are not going back to the courts. Our people are the courts, they should decide what to do with the next elections,” he said.

In the days before the election Museveni responded to the threat of street protests. “There will be no Egyptian-like revolution here,” he told journalists in the lakeside town of Entebbe on Wednesday. “We would just lock them up … bundle them into jails and that would be the end of the story.”