Friday, February 24, 2006

Ugandans begin presidential vote - Feb 23, 2006

CNN report Feb 23, 2006:

Ugandans have turned out to vote in the nation's first multi-party presidential elections in 25 years.

The biggest challenger to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, who has held power for 20 years, is Kiiza Besigye, 49, of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Though polls had Museveni in the lead, it was not clear whether he would get the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Thousands of international observers are on hand to monitor the voting.

Nearly 50,000 forces oversaw security at polling places around the country, where 10.5 million people are registered to vote.

Observers said voters waited patiently in long lines before they got their chance to vote.

Afterward, their thumbs were dipped in indelible ink to ensure they did not try to vote again.

Polling stations were slated to close at 7 p.m.

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Photo: Workers prepare ballot boxes in Kampala on Wednesday.

Backed by a handful of fighters, Museveni wrested power in a 1986 coup, inheriting a country in ruins, wracked by sectarian strife and in economic free fall after former leader Idi Amin expelled its Asian business community.

Museveni set about restoring stability and reviving the country's economy. In the process, he became a darling of governments and international institutions.

U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each visited Uganda and came away praising his leadership, particularly in helping the country combat AIDS.

Even after 20 years in the job, there is more to do, he said. "I don't think what we have done is enough," he told CNN. "I think it's simply a beginning."

But his critics contend that he should step aside before his taste for power becomes an addiction.

Besigye, Museveni's one-time friend and former personal physician, accuses the incumbent of condoning corruption, and described him to CNN as "somebody who abandoned the cause."

-- CNN Correspondent Jeff Koinange contributed to this story.

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