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Heavy security, arrests as Ugandan pop star set to come home

In this Aug. 23, 2018 file photo, Ugandan pop star-turned-lawmaker Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, center, arrives at a magistrate's court in Gulu, northern Uganda. (AP Photo)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- Arrests began as Ugandan security forces deployed heavily before the return of pop star and opposition figure Bobi Wine from the United States on Thursday, enforcing a ban on rallies they said threaten public order.

Police detained the singer's brother and at least two other people who were driving to the airport to welcome him home, said lawyer Asuman Basalirwa.

"They have not given any reasons for the arrests," Basalirwa said, adding that he had been ordered to turn back. "We don't know their intentions."

The singer, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has emerged as a popular voice against longtime President Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, as frustration rises in Uganda's large youth population over unemployment.

Ssentamu, who was expected to arrive at Entebbe International Airport midday Thursday, had sought treatment in the U.S. for injuries allegedly sustained during state torture, which Uganda's government denies.

Police have said only family members would be permitted to meet the singer. "I am a free Ugandan with the right to move freely in my country," Ssentamu replied.

Another of the singer's lawyers, opposition legislator Medard Sseggona, said Thursday he had escaped police detention at his home. Police also surrounded the home of the mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, and he was unable to leave, Sseggona said.

Some journalists were barred from accessing the airport, local broadcaster NTV said on Twitter.

Ssentamu, who won a national assembly seat last year, faces treason charges over his alleged role in an incident last month in which the president's convoy was pelted with stones. He denies wrongdoing. His next court appearance is Oct. 1.

The 36-year-old Ssentamu says he is fighting for freedom from oppression and wants Museveni, in power since 1986, to retire. Museveni in turn has accused opposition figures of trying to lure Uganda's large youth population into rioting.

Ssentamu has a big following among poor, unemployed young people in urban areas. His arrest sparked riots by demonstrators demanding his release and security forces violently put down protests in the capital.

Dozens of global musicians have condemned the treatment of the singer, and the European Union parliament and some U.S. senators have urged Ugandan authorities to respect basic human rights.

Museveni, a key U.S. ally on regional security, took power by force and has since been elected five times. Although he has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry those gains are being eroded the longer he stays in power.

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