Rising prices for food and fuel have sparked protests in East Africa, taking a deadly turn in Uganda as authorities acted decisively to contain the demonstrations. Dubbed "walk to work" actions by opposition leaders to highlight the rising costs of driving, they have triggered violent clashes between protestors and police and soldiers in the capital, Kampala, and at least five other towns. Political rivalries are helping feed the clashes, in which five people have been killed, more than 100 injured and hundreds more jailed.
The United States is deeply troubled by this tragic loss of life and injury. That Uganda's security forces have arrested political opponents of the government who have taken part in the protests is of equal concern. The government's crackdown has even extended to the press with attempted restrictions on media coverage of the protests and on at least one occasion the blocking of social networking websites.
With consumer prices in Uganda rising more than 11 percent in the month of March alone, the protestors' concerns are real and the demonstrations will likely continue. The government's heavy handed reaction increases the chances of further clashes in a cycle of violence that can feed on itself.
Uganda is a valued friend and partner of our nation and we renew our call for the government there to respect the opposition's right to express its views and the people's rights to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of intimidation. Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights and a critical component of democracy.