Lawmakers fight in Uganda parliament for second day over presidential age limit

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KAMPALA (Reuters) – Fighting broke out in Uganda’s parliament for a second day between lawmakers pushing for a change in laws to remove age limits for presidential candidates and those opposing it, a Reuters witness said.

The Reuters journalist who was present in parliament said he saw microphone stands being used as weapons, and at least two female lawmakers being carried out after collapsing. People exchanged blows and kicks after security personnel were called in to remove lawmakers who had been ordered out of the chambers.

At least 25 MPs opposed to the legislative move had been ordered by the speaker to vacate the chambers after being suspended for involvement in fighting on Tuesday.

Under the existing constitution, eligibility to stand as a presidential candidate has an age ceiling of 75 years. That makes President Yoweri Museveni, 73, in power for more than three decades, unqualified to seek re-election at the next polls in 2021. Removing the age cap would clear that hurdle.

The proposal to change the constitution – echoing steps by veteran leaders elsewhere in Africa to void legal limits on their rule – has stirred widespread opposition from rights activists, the political opposition, religious leaders and from some members of Museveni’s own ruling party.

The fighting first broke out in parliament on Tuesday, leading Uganda’s communication regulator to ban live broadcasts of events “inciting the public”.

In a notice on Wednesday, the Uganda Communications Commission said radios and television stations should stop live broadcasts of events that “are inciting the public, discriminating, stirring up hatred, promoting a culture of violence … and are likely to create public insecurity.”

No station aired Wednesday’s proceedings, but some posted clips of the brawls on their Twitter feeds.

Uganda’s two major privately owned TV stations, including a local unit of Kenya’s Nation Media Group, and some radio stations carried Tuesday’s proceedings live.

Critics say the action to ban live broadcasts underscored a crackdown in the East African country against anyone questioning a planned constitutional amendment.

Since last week, when a motion to kick-start the amendment process was supposed to be read but never made it to the floor, both police and military personnel have been deployed around the parliament and many parts of the capital, Kampala.

Protests by students and opposition activists and supporters in Kampala against the legislative measure – sometimes broadcast live – have been put down with tear gas and arrests of scores of people.

Media in Uganda routinely complain of harassment by security personnel. Journalists say they have been beaten, detained or their equipment damaged or confiscated during coverage of anti-government demonstrations.

On Tuesday, anti-government protests also occurred in other parts of the country, including in the northern town of Lira. Three local journalists there were arrested as they covered the protests, according to Hudson Apunyo, an official in a journalists’ association in the area.

Robert Ssempala, national coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, said banning live broadcasts was “to shut out Ugandans and keep them in the dark on the age limit debate” after the measure met broad resistance.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Heinrich

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Godwin Okafor is a Financial Journalist, Internet Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Naija247news Media Limited. He has over 16 years experience in financial journalism. His experience cuts across traditional and digital media. He started his journalism career at Business Day, Nigeria and founded Naija247news Media in 2010. Godwin holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. He is an alumni of Lagos Business School and a Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists). Over the years, he has won a number of journalism awards. Godwin is the chairman of Emmerich Resources Limited, the publisher of Naija247news.

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