Uganda's veteran opposition leader says he won't run in 2021

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 12, 2016 file photo, former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, center, is interviewed by journalists after being released on bail after spending two months in jail over treason charges at the High Court in Kampala, Uganda. The longtime opposition leader in Uganda announced on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020 that he will not run against President Yoweri Museveni in polls scheduled for 2021, saying he will continue seeking democratic change by other means. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera, File) (Stephen Wandera, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

KAMPALA – A longtime opposition leader in Uganda announced on Wednesday that he will not run against President Yoweri Museveni in polls scheduled for 2021, saying he will continue seeking democratic change by other means.

Kizza Besigye, 64, who has run for president since 2001 and rose to become the most formidable challenger to the long rule of Museveni, railed against “those rogues that control" Uganda.

“You must be very flexible. If you are fighting from this position and the enemy identifies where you are, they are going to concentrate the fire where you are,” he told scores of supporters at his party's headquarters in Kampala, Uganda's capital. “You must, therefore, never stay in one position for a long time. You change cover. They must not predict what you are doing or where you are.”

Armed police stood guard outside the gates as Besigye spoke, heightening fears of a confrontation with his supporters, many of whom expressed disappointment that he won't be on the presidential ballot. Followers praised Besigye's persistence despite harassment. His rallies and marches have consistently been disrupted by security forces and he has been arrested many times on charges including treason, but he has never been convicted of a crime.

Besigye is a retired army colonel who once served as Museveni's personal physician during the bush war that brought Museveni to power in 1986. Besigye is one of many former comrades who now accuse Museveni of betraying the ideals for which they fought previous dictatorships in the East African country. The 75-year-old Museveni is accused of getting the legislature to remove age limits on the presidency so that he can stay in power.

Besigye's decision is good news for Bobi Wine, the 38-year-old singer and lawmaker who is running for president as the head of the People Power movement that is popular with many young people. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has repeatedly urged Besigye to stand down.

If Wine is to become the sole candidate of the country's various opposition parties he will need to strike a deal with Besigye, who has broad national appeal and a devout following in some areas.

Museveni accuses Wine and other opposition figures of encouraging young people into rioting.

Museveni's opponents say corruption is thriving and accuse the president of entrenching his power through his firm grip on the military, Uganda's most powerful institution. The army has become even more influential amid the coronavirus pandemic as uniformed soldiers enforce lockdown measures, sometimes with brutal force.

Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962.