Voting underway in Uganda election

KAMPALA, Uganda - Ugandans voted Thursday in presidential elections seen as the toughest challenge yet for the country's long-time president, who faces seven opponents.

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The voting has been marred by delays because of the late delivery of voting materials in many places, especially in the capital Kampala.

President Yoweri Museveni faces a strong challenge from Kizza Besigye, who has called Museveni a dictator and told reporters earlier this week that he does not believe voting will be free or fair.

More than 15 million people are registered to vote. Ugandans are also choosing lawmakers.

There were long lines at many polling stations in Kampala, with people complaining loudly about the delays. Some ballot boxes had missing lids, stranding voting officials who frantically made calls.

"We are late simply because the lids for ballot boxes are not here. The boxes and the lids should have arrived at the same time," said Moses Omo, an official who was presiding over voting at a Catholic church in the central Ugandan district of Wakiso.

Despite the delays, which lasted over an hour at some polling stations, many potential voters said they would not leave without voting.

"This is very disappointing but I am going to stay here under the sun until it is my turn to vote," said Fred Mubiru, a taxi driver. "Nothing will discourage me."

Although opinion polls had shown Museveni to be ahead of his opponents, analysts expect this election to be his toughest yet, citing the massive crowds Besigye attracted across the country.

Museveni, 71, remains popular in some parts of rural Uganda, where he is seen as a father figure and is beloved by those who remember his time as a guerrilla leader fighting a dictatorship.

He came to power in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos. He is widely credited with restoring peace and presiding over economic growth, and is a key U.S. ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. But his critics worry that he may want to rule for life.

Besigye, 59, is running for the fourth time against Museveni. He campaigned on a promise to run a more effective government, vowing to stem official corruption. He said he will continue "the struggle" in other ways if he loses, suggesting a protest movement similar to the one that followed the last election in 2011. That movement was violently put down by security forces.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said a weak "human rights situation seriously undermines the prospects of free and fair elections and the ability of Ugandans to exercise fundamental human rights such as free expression, assembly, and association."

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also reported "a worsening pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists" in Uganda.

Ahead of the polls, there has been a heavy security presence in Kampala, with heavily armed police patrolling the streets and armoured vehicles parked at key junctions.


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