KAMPALA, Uganda — Army troops and police fired live bullets at rioting demonstrators Friday, and at least two people were killed and 120 wounded in the largest anti-government protest in sub-Saharan Africa this year.
Rioters burned tires in downtown streets as security forces fired tear gas and guns, and a Red Cross spokeswoman said 15 of the wounded and been hit by live bullets. Battles between protesters and police were also reported elsewhere around the country.
The protests are the first serious demonstrations in sub-Saharan Africa since a wave of anti-government protests swept leaders in Tunisia and Egypt out of power. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for a quarter-century, has vowed repeatedly that his government will not be taken down by protests.
The breakout of violence came one day after a brutal takedown of the country's top opposition politician, Kizza Besigye. Police smashed through the window of Besigye's vehicle with the butt of a gun and doused him with tear gas at close range before bundling him into the back of a pickup truck and speeding off.
"They arrested him like a chicken thief. We cannot allow such things to continue. Museveni must go," said Brown Ndese, one of the protesters.
Red Cross spokeswoman Catherine Ntabadde said at least two people were killed and 120 people wounded. Uganda police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said the police were working to contain the demonstrations and did not immediately have a casualty figure.
Some 360 people were arrested, the government said.
Besigye was freed on bail on Thursday but did not make any public appearances or statements on Friday. Radio reports quoted an aide as saying Besigye was in poor health and that he was to fly him out of the country for treatment.
Besigye withstood long volleys of tear gas sprayed directly on him Thursday, but it wasn't clear how sick or injured he was. Attempts to reach Besigye aides for comment failed.
Besigye has held five "walk to work" demonstrations to protest rising prices and what he calls a corrupt government. On Friday, demonstrators carried posters praising Besigye, and questioned why police needed to use violence to arrest him. Opposition members of parliament have demanded an explanation from the government over his treatment.
Ugandan Minister of Internal Affairs Kirunda Kivejinja said at a news conference Friday that police had no intention of arresting Besigye in such a harsh manner on Thursday.
"The way he was arrested was due to the way he reacted," Kivejinja said. "When police advised him not to use a particular road, he instead got out of his vehicle and called his supporters."
About comparisons to Arab uprisings, he said: "Uganda cannot be like Tunisia and Egypt. ... Here we simply have Besigye who does not want to cooperate. He is defiant against lawful orders."
Earlier this month Besigye was shot in the right hand by what he says was a rubber bullet fired by police. He now wears a thick white cast that reaches halfway up his right arm.
Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper reported on its website Friday that military forces and police fired live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators in the eastern town of Mbale, some 200 miles (300 kilometers) outside Kampala. Demonstrators fought back with rocks.
The U.S. Embassy in Uganda condemned the escalation of violence and it called on all protesters to obey the law and cease all destruction of property.
"The U.S. Mission in Uganda also urges the Government of Uganda to respect the right of all citizens to peacefully express their views as enshrined by Uganda's constitution. Above all, Ugandan authorities must avoid using excessive force against civilians in this situation. Constructive dialogue is needed now," the U.S. statement said.
Besigye came second in Uganda's February presidential election to Museveni, threatening to end the opposition leader's political career after three straight losses to the longtime leader. Official returns showed Museveni winning 68 percent of the February vote, though Besigye says those returns were falsified and that both he and Museveni got just under 50 percent.
Besigye, though, has had a political resurrection in recent months as the country has seen huge price spikes in food and fuel.
In an interview with The Associated Press at his home last week, Besigye said many Ugandans face a "crisis of survival," that the health care system has broken down and that young people cannot find jobs.
Besigye was the president's personal physician before being dismissed for saying in 1999 the government was becoming a one-man dictatorship.
Uganda is a young country, with half its nearly 35 million citizens under 15. An estimated 1.2 million have HIV/AIDS. The average yearly income is just $1,200, though many here have hopes – and fears – over newly discovered oil that will soon be pumped. An oil curse has befallen other African countries, providing more incentive for corrupt leaders to remain in power in order to steal from public coffers.