Fire at tombs in Uganda result in clashes between protestors and police

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

At least two people in Uganda were killed on Wednesday, after clashes between police and protestors at a royal mausoleum.

The incident occurred at Kasubi, near the Ugandan capital of Kampala, when protestors attempted to stop the country's president, Yoweri Museveni from visiting the tomb site, which was on fire. They set up a barricade and booed him, blocking his motorcade. The fire had destroyed a large portion of the tombs, which are as much as 128 years old. They are revered by the Buganda tribe, the largest in Uganda.

There are accusations that the blaze was started intentionally. Kampala-based journalist Malcolm Webb commented about the incident to Al Jazeera. "[T]he tombs of their kings [...] was burnt to the ground. They suspect it was arson. I've seen four people who were injured [...] But the crowd has been largely chased away."

The president pledged that he would look into the accusations of arson, although he commented that the demonstrators at the "scene of the crime" might have interfered, making an investigation more difficult. "I am suspicious. This could be arson. The problem is the place has been tampered with. [...] [B]ut we are going to investigate and get to the cause," Musveni told the mausoleum caretakers.

Judith Nabakooba, a spokesman for Ugandan security forces, told Agence France-Presse that "[t]here was a group that confronted security at the scene before the arrival of the president. They were violent, when they confronted us we shot in the air to disperse them."

A Buganda official, Medard Ssegona Lubega, remarked about the blaze to the BBC Network Africa, saying: "There are many men of our fallen kings lie in this house, which is now down to ashes," he told the BBC's Network Africa It is something that we have built and kept and maintained for our children and grandchildren and many generations unborn."

Buganda is one of the country's four ancient kingdoms; the United Nations' cultural organisation, UNESCO, designated it as a world heritage site. It has been a popular tourist site, and its mausoleum contains the remains of four of Buganda's former kings, the last of which was buried in 1971.