KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan police on Thursday detained two of the president's top challengers, an opposition leader and a former prime minister who last month announced he would seek the presidency.
Three-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, who is frequently detained over his political activities, was arrested outside his home near Kampala, the Ugandan capital, as he headed out to address a rally, his aide Francis Mwijukye said.
Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was arrested as he traveled from Kampala to a town in eastern Uganda where he planned to consult with his supporters. Police had warned he faced arrest if he proceeded with the trip without first getting the support of the ruling party, of which he is a member, but Mbabazi insisted that as a presidential aspirant he needed no one's approval to consult across the country.
Police took "preventive action" against Mbabazi, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, an assistant inspector general of police, told reporters Thursday.
"He is now under incarceration," Kaweesi said.
The two arrests show that Museveni's government "has not yet come to terms with the idea of political competition," said Livingstone Sewanyana, who heads the watchdog group Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.
"Anyone who threatens Museveni's power base definitely will face the same treatment. It doesn't matter whether you were once bedfellows," he said
The arrest of Mbabazi, a former ally of long-serving Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, could stoke political tensions here as Museveni tries to remain the undisputed leader of his party. Museveni has led Uganda since taking power by force in 1986. Critics increasingly describe Museveni as authoritarian, accusing him of using the security forces to keep a firm grip on power.
Mbabazi was a member of Museveni's former rebel movement and was once seen as a possible successor to Museveni after holding several Cabinet positions over the years. Museveni fired Mbabazi as his prime minister last year amid reports that Mbabazi was exploring a possible presidential run.
After Mbabazi announced last month that he would seek the presidency as a member of the ruling party, he was denounced by some party officials who want Museveni to run unopposed.