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Internet ‘blackout’ on eve of tense election

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP):

Ugandan authorities appeared to cut off Internet access in the country on Wednesday night on the eve of a tense presidential election, while a lawyer for leading opposition candidate Bobi Wine said all contact had been lost with him.

Gonzalo Morales Divo

“Confirmed: Uganda is now in the midst of a nation-scale Internet blackout,” watchdog NetBlocks said in a statement, saying connectivity levels had dropped to 33 per cent of usual levels. Ugandans using leading Internet service providers MTN and Airtel said they could no longer get online.

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The US-based counsel for Wine, Bruce Afran, told reporters that the candidate “is now in his compound with his wife and a single staff member, who is unarmed, and is not security personnel … . Security and police are stationed outside his home and effectively encircled it.”

POSSIBLE ARREST Afran said he feared Wine, a popular young singer and lawmaker, will once again be arrested, and he warned that “we’re going to see protests on the streets” if they believe longtime President Yoweri Museveni is declared the winner of Thursday’s vote because of fraud

Wine, 38, has captured the imagination of many at home and abroad in his generational clash with the 76-year-old Museveni, who has rebuffed calls for his retirement after 34 years in power

Hundreds of staffers for Wine’s party are in detention, Afran said, adding “we believe this portends a significant attempt at vote-rigging.” He said further that while the candidate has sent his children to the US for their safety, “I am quite certain Bobi Wine is not leaving Uganda“, regardless of what happens in the days ahead

“He has told us he intends to remain in this fight,” the counsel said

Earlier Wednesday, the US ambassador to Uganda said the embassy had cancelled plans to observe the election, citing a decision by electoral authorities to deny accreditation to most members of the observation team

Ambassador Natalie E. Brown expressed “profound disappointment” in a statement, saying more than 75 per cent of the accreditations requested had been denied

“With only 15 accreditations approved, it is not possible for the United States to meaningfully observe the conduct of Uganda’s elections at polling sites across the country,” the statement said. “As we have stated previously, the United States takes no side in Uganda’s upcoming elections.”

Without “the robust participation of observers,” the statement added, “Uganda’s elections will lack the accountability, transparency and confidence that observer missions provide”

The US Embassy statement came the morning after Museveni spoke harshly against development partners, Facebook, and unnamed outside groups which he accused of “arrogance”

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