It was unclear who was responsible for the deaths. Most of the 37 dead suffered gunshot wounds and traumatic injuries, said Uganda Police Chief of Pathology Moisi Byaruhanga.
Vera, who has emerged as the strongest challenger to longtime Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni in the election scheduled for early next year, was released on bail on Friday, his lawyer Nicholas Opiyo said.
Opiyo said Vera was arrested for a coronavirus violation. But, he said, the real reason is that it is part of a broader effort to stifle opposition campaigns. He noted that Museveni was also holding political rallies without police intervention.
Opposition candidates have argued that if the government feared an escalation of coronavirus cases, it would have delayed the presidential election.
Tensions have risen ahead of the January 14 poll as Museveni, 76, who has been in power since 1986, requires a sixth term. Last year, he was released to run again after the country’s highest court upheld a decision to remove the presidential age limit, which was previously set at 75 years old.
A number of Wine supporters were injured and at least 577 were arrested in protests that erupted across the country after police arrested Wine in Luuka, east of Kampala. Wine, 38, has a strong following among young Ugandans and living poor in urban areas. He has often called on Museveni to resign.
The growing storm of violence so early in the campaign season is not a good sign for the weeks leading up to the election, said Oryem Nyeko, an African expert at Human Rights Watch. Authorities can stop slipping into further violence by ending the harassment of journalists and opposition candidates and their supporters and the violent disruption of their campaign rallies.
Another opposition candidate, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, of the Forum for Democratic Change party, was also arrested on Thursday but released a few hours later.
Museveni said in a statement that Uganda was losing people to the coronavirus and warned that he would not tolerate any violations of coronavirus-related measures during the campaigns. As of Friday, Uganda had recorded more than 17,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 150 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
This is the second time Vera has been arrested this month. On November 3, television footage showed him pulling out of his car by police shortly after he was registered as a candidate.
Vera, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, would probably return to the campaign trail, Opiyo said. But he expressed concern about the safety of Wines.
It is unlikely they can kill him, but he is in serious danger of being injured, shot or wounded, Opiyo said.
In 2018, Wine sought medical treatment in the United States after he said he was tortured by the Ugandan military while in custody following a brawl at a political rally in which his driver was shot to death.
Wroughton reported from Cape Town.
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