Leading opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, center, is surrounded by his bodyguards after being overcome by tear gas fired at him and his supporters by riot police, when they attempted to walk along a street in downtown Kampala, Uganda Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. Ugandan riot police arrested Besigye after tear-gassing him and his supporters when they tried to go from one election rally to another. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a crowd of opposition supporters and briefly arrested a leading opposition candidate on Monday, raising tensions ahead of elections widely seen as close.
Ambulances carried the injured after the police used force to break up supporters of presidential candidate Kizza Besigye near Uganda’s Makerere University in the capital.
Besigye defied orders to follow a less crowded route to the university, where he had planned to hold a rally so police fired tear gas and shotguns to quell a crowd of his supporters, said police spokesman Fred Enanga.
“He is defiant. We are not going to arrest him. We are not going to detain him. We know this is what he wants. We will just tow his vehicle and drive him home,” Enanga said of Besigye.
Recent opinion polls show Museveni in a tight race with Besigye, who is promising to run a more efficient government.
Besigye himself was arrested briefly Monday afternoon in Kampala, where he is holding his last rallies ahead of elections on Thursday.
Besigye is a former government official who broke ranks with Museveni 15 years ago, saying Museveni was no longer a democrat. He now openly describes Museveni as a dictator.
Ahead of elections, there has been a substantial rise in the number of police deployed around Kampala, seen as an opposition stronghold. Museveni has threatened to “smash” those who threaten national security.
Critics and opposition activists are concerned the military will be used to intimidate opposition supporters during and after the elections.
Uganda has not had a peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence from Britain in 1962. Museveni himself took power by force in 1986.