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Uganda's Bobi Wine urges 'strong action' over disputed polls

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 file photo, opposition presidential challenger Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, gestures as he speaks to the media outside his house after government soldiers withdrew from it, in Magere, near Kampala, in Uganda. Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni in Feb. 2021 has ordered the suspension of the multimillion-dollar Democratic Governance Facility fund backed by European nations that supports the work of local groups focusing on democracy and good governance. (AP Photo/Nicholas Bamulanzeki, File)

KAMPALA – Ugandan opposition figure Bobi Wine is urging the international community to back up concerns over the country's disputed elections with “strong actions" against President Yoweri Museveni's government.

Wine, who is disputing his loss to the long-time leader in last month's presidential elections, told reporters that he hopes “the world will stand with the people of Uganda.”

“Gen. Museveni, like all dictators, is not moved by words,” said Wine, a 38-year-old singer and legislator whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu. He spoke via video link from his house on the outskirts of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, where, he said, he effectively remains under house arrest.

“We hope that there will be more action following the strongly worded statements,” he said of international condemnation of the elections.

Wine said he was happy with MTV Base Africa's decision to postpone an awards ceremony that was due to be held later this month in Kampala, after pressure from activists who charged that the event would bolster the image of Uganda's government in the aftermath of the polls.

The 76-year-old Museveni is a United States ally who took power by force in 1986 and has been elected multiple times. He has collaborated with Washington to battle the Islamic extremist insurgency in Somalia, where Uganda was the first to deploy troops to defend the weak federal government there.

But Museveni's ties with the West appear to be cooling as criticism grows over alleged abuses by his security forces as well as his extended stay in power. Museveni is now accusing Wine of being a foreign agent, and has said that foreign meddling in Uganda “will not be tolerated.”

It emerged this week that in January he ordered the suspension of a multimillion-dollar fund backed by European nations that supports the work of scores of local groups —- including government agencies — focusing on good governance, human rights and accountability.

The U.S. and the European Union have noted concerns about Uganda’s elections. The U.S. ambassador, Natalie E. Brown, recently cited “deep and continuing concern about the extrajudicial detention of opposition political party members, the reported disappearance of several opposition supporters, and continued restrictions” of Wine’s party.

Ugandan attorneys for Wine this week filed a legal challenge with Uganda's Supreme Court seeking to nullify Museveni's victory and bar him from ever running for the presidency again. It remains unclear when oral arguments will start. Museveni has never lost in the courts, and analysts say the panel of nine judges is not likely to rule against him.

Wine's U.S.-based attorney, Bruce Afran, said on Thursday that he had compiled a report with evidence of the widespread irregularities that Wine has alleged were perpetrated in favor of Museveni. The report has been shared with members of the international community, he said.

One piece of the evidence of alleged electoral fraud, he said, is Museveni's 100% victories at multiple polling stations in his strongholds.

Wine said his legal team possesses evidence from 20,000 of the East African country's 34,000 polling stations. Evidence from at least 10,000 others was confiscated by security officials who conducted night raids or waylaid opposition agents, he said.

Wine's party, which says 3,000 of its members are in detention, has cited soldiers allegedly stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations.

Museveni won the Jan. 14 polls with 58% of the vote while Wine had 35%, according to official results.

The elections were marred by violence ahead of polling day as well as an internet shutdown that remained in force until four days after the vote. Social media sites remain restricted.

Museveni has dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since independence from Britain in 1962.