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Museveni Opens Big Lead In Uganda Election
KAMPALA, Uganda, February 25, 2006 – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni took a commanding lead over his rival Kizza Besigye on Friday in early results from an election he hopes will extend his two-decade rule.
Results from nearly a third of the east African nation's polling stations gave Museveni 65.5 percent. Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was on less than half that at 31.9 percent, the Electoral Commission (EC) said.
Uganda's first multi-party election in 25 years was being closely watched in the West as a test for democracy in Africa and for the message it might send to others in the region who, like Museveni, may seek to extend already lengthy tenures.
Some ecstatic Museveni fans took to the streets of the capital Kampala anticipating his victory. But the opposition has denounced "multiple irregularities" at Thursday's poll, questioned Friday's tally and is mulling legal action.
There were fears of street protests.
Either candidate needs more than 50 percent to avoid a run-off next month. Final results are expected on Saturday.
Critics say Museveni, 62, who comes from a rural cattle-keeping family, has become increasingly authoritarian since he took power after a 1981-86 guerrilla war.
Western donors, who once hailed Museveni as the foremost of a "new breed" of African leaders, were disappointed last year when parliament changed the constitution to scrap term limits that would have ended his presidency at this election.
They were also angry over the brief jailing of Besigye and his continuing trials on rape and treason charges.
The West was, however, likely to accept a Museveni victory, albeit grudgingly, diplomats and analysts said.
"Although no one will be particularly excited about it, most Western countries have accepted Museveni is here to stay and they are not so unhappy given stability is a major concern for many donors," British analyst Tom Cargill said.
As the EC read out the latest results at a Kampala sports stadium, in the north a truck full of soldiers drove through Gulu town cheering and making the thumbs-up symbol of Museveni's ruling Movement. One brandished a rifle in the air.
The Movement declared the election free and fair.
Observers noted some problems, but said it was better than the 2001 vote, which was marred by fraud and violence.
"There were some incidents here and there but no major problems," the head of the African Union observer mission, Victor Tonchi, told Reuters.
The local Democracy Monitoring Group said voting was peaceful but up to 200,000 names were missing from registers.
The European Union said in a preliminary assessment that "significant improvements" were made on 2001 but also concluded "a level playing field was not in place".
It criticized the hampering of Besigye's campaign by court appearances, bias in government media, and the use of state resources for Museveni's campaign.
The opposition FDC said it had formally complained to the electoral commission over early official results which it said were drawn only from government strongholds to "prepare the public for a final announcement that Museveni is the winner".
It said its own provisional results put the opposition ahead by 49.7 percent to Museveni's 47.5 percent.
In an embarrassing incident for Museveni, his legal adviser was pictured on the front of a newspaper on Friday armed with an automatic pistol as he stood near five men lying half-naked on the ground during a polling day melee.
A clean vote was seen by diplomats as a pre-requisite for Museveni -- if he wins -- to patch up relations with the West.
But a third term for Museveni would also be seen by some as setting a bad example in a continent dogged by "Big Men" who have clung to power at whatever cost.
"What message does this send to Nigeria and others?" asked one diplomat in Kampala, referring to Nigeria's debate over whether President Olusegun Obasanjo should stand again.
Besigye, 49, who was Museveni's physician in the bush war, was arrested on treason and rape charges in November days after returning home to stand in the polls. He rejoined the campaign after being freed on bail last month.
He has appealed to the young, unemployed and urban voters.
Beyond the pair's personal rivalry, Ugandans hope whoever wins will end a devastating war in the north where Lord's Resistance Army rebels have terrorized residents for 20 years.
Museveni ran on his record of security and economic growth, an impressive 6 percent annually since 1986.