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KAMPALA, 10 June (IRIN) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said on Wednesday that he would campaign for the country's return to multiparty politics during a referendum scheduled for 28 July.
"We cannot continue to deny people their right to belong where they want to belong," he said. "Some people were in the [ruling National Resistance] Movement, but were not happy with the movement."
For the past two decades, Museveni has strongly opposed party politics and claimed they were the source of Uganda's political upheaval during its post-independence era.
Critics, including Uganda's donors and NGOs, have expressed concern about Museveni's commitment to opening up Uganda's political space. Britain has withheld US $9.6 million in aid to the East African country because of the slow pace of the political transition.
However, Museveni told parliament that the introduction of multiparty democracy would counter allegations that his government was violating people's right to associate.
"We want to end the era of lies that we are oppressing the opposition," he said.
He added that he would campaign for a "yes" vote in the referendum.
During the July referendum, Ugandans are due to vote whether or not the country should revert to multiparty politics, banned in 1986 when Museveni came to power, or to maintain the current "no-party" political system, where the ruling Movement is the only political group permitted to operate.
Uganda's Electoral Commission announced on Thursday the question to be put to a vote: "Do you agree to open up the political space to allow those who wish to join different organisations/parties to do so to compete for political power?"
Major opposition parties have threatened to boycott the referendum. They said the government was holding the vote expecting the public would vote against the proposal, enabling the Movement to tighten its grip on power.
Museveni's National Resistance Movement has ruled Uganda for close to two decades, during which time the country's poverty levels reduced from over 60 percent to below 30 percent.
However, during that time, northern Uganda has been ravaged by a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians, displaced more than 1.4 million people and completely destroyed the region's economy.
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