Monday, April 16, 2007

Age-old racial tensions have flared up in Uganda as Africans demonstrated against Asian Indians

Myrtle Ryan:

The demonstration turned ugly when Africans - carrying banners with slogans like "Asians should go" and "For one tree cut, five Indians dead" - started attacking Asians and their property, stoning one to death, smashing a Hindu temple, and setting vehicles alight.

According to Uganda's The New Vision newspaper, the rioting was the result of the government's plan to give away part of the Mabira Forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda, which forms part of the Indian-owned Mehta Group.

Opposition MPs were allegedly part of the protest march on Thursday, which was meant to be peaceful, but flared into violence when the police blocked protesters from marching on to Kampala Road.

While police chief Kale Kayihura gave permission for the demonstration, he mapped out a route which should be followed.

When the protesters tried to take a different course, anti-riot police sealed off Kampala Road. The demonstrators pelted them with stones and in response the police fired teargas.

According to The New Vision, one of the MPs, Jimmy Akena, managed to calm the crowds and led them along the designated route. However, some demonstrators grabbed an Indian man, passing by on a motorcycle, and beat him up.

He managed to escape but his scooter was set ablaze.

The crowd then ran amok when another Indian man drove through them with his car, hitting two children, who were part of the Royal Brass Band at the head of the procession.

The driver sped off amid a barrage of stones, and his car is believed to be the same vehicle which drove over one of Uganda's radio journalists, Simon Kaggwa, who was dragged away by colleagues.

An Indian sales representative, Devang Rawal, took the full wrath of the crowd who stoned him to death.

Demonstrators turned their attentions to a Hindu temple - with an estimated 40 Indians trapped inside - and smashed its windows, then attempted to burn down a mosque.

A trailer loaded with sugar, belonging to a city tycoon with links to prominent Indians, was set ablaze, while the driver fled.

Anti-riot police managed to rescue several Indians, some of whom were admitted to Kampala International Hospital.

In the chaos, a private security guard, guarding a shop, shot dead two rioters who allegedly tried to attack him and was arrested.

Armoured vehicles patrolled the streets and the police arrested 20 rioters.

Business in the city was brought to a standstill for the day. Shops and banks closed, while taxi operators also stopped their service.

Uganda has a history of conflict between the Indian community and indigenous Ugandans.

It first emerged in the 1920s when Ugandans refused to sell agricultural land to Indian immigrants, who turned to trading.

In 1945, 1948 and 1959 riots in the country targeted the Indians because of their monopoly on trade. When Idi Amin came to power in 1971, he expelled Indians to ensure that the national economy fell into the hands of Africans.

After the Amin regime fell in 1979, president Apolo Milton Obote returned the properties to their former Indian owners, but deep-rooted antagonism continued to simmer beneath the surface.

Uganda police arrest two MPs over deadly riot

Uganda rioters target Indians

Asians stay off Ugandan streets


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