Uganda boosts security ahead of pope’s visit

Uganda said Thursday it would deploy over 10,000 police officers backed by soldiers when Pope Francis visits later this month, amid fears of attacks by Al-Qaeda militants.

Military spokesman Paddy Ankunda said that given past attacks by the Somali-led Shebab Islamists, the army were “not taking anything for granted”, although no uniformed troops would be deployed near the pope.

Shebab bombers killed 76 people in the capital Kampala in 2010, and police say they have foiled a number of attacks by rebel groups since.

Ugandan troops in Somalia are fighting Shebab insurgents as part of an African Union force, and the Islamists make regular threats.

“The threats have always been coming from Al-Shebab,” police spokesman Fred Enanga told AFP, who said 10,200 officers would be deployed to enure the pope’s safety.

“He’s a very prominent, very popular figure,” Enanga said. “We have to raise the stakes.”

It will be the third papal visit to Uganda — after Pope Paul VI in 1969 and Pope John Paul II in 1993 — where around two-fifths of people are Catholic.

In Uganda, the pope will conduct mass at Namugongo martyrs shrine, on the outskirts of Kampala, where early Christian converts executed in the late 1880s are remembered.

Uganda is the second of three African countries the pontiff will visit, after being in neighbouring Kenya from November 25 to 27.

After two days in Uganda, he will travel to Central African Republic (CAR), where his trip will end on November 30, according to a Vatican itinerary.

The three countries — which have significant Catholic communities — have been troubled by civil conflicts and violence, leading to increased security concerns surrounding the pope’s visit.

In Kenya, the Shebab have staged a string of attacks, including an April massacre at Garissa university in which 148 people were killed, and a 2013 assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall that killed 67.

Kenya has also said it will deploy up to 10,000 police to protect him.

But France has said the visit to strife-hit Central African Republic is “risky” and French troops on the ground could not ensure his safety, France’s defence ministry said Wednesday.

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