Death toll from protests over the recent arrest of Ugandan opposition presidential hopeful and musician Bobi Wine has risen to at least 37 in the country’s worst unrest in a decade. Wine has been released on bail following charges.

Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine sits inside the courtroom in Iganga, eastern Uganda, November 20, 2020.
Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine sits inside the courtroom in Iganga, eastern Uganda, November 20, 2020. (Abubaker Lubowa / Reuters)

At least 37 people have died and hundreds have been detained in unrest in Uganda triggered by the arrest of presidential candidate and pop star Bobi Wine, as the East African country gears up for elections on January 14.

A Ugandan court on Friday charged Wine over an election rally that allegedly flouted Covid-19 rules, then freed him on bail, after his detention sparked violent protests.

Authorities have deployed the military across the capital Kampala and surrounding areas to help police forces disperse protesters. They have used live bullets, tear gas, water cannon and arrested hundreds.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda.

"It is Museveni, who is supposed to be in this dock for killing innocent citizens," Wine said after he was charged in a televised court appearance, referring to incumbent leader President Yoweri Museveni.

READ MORE: Deaths mount after Bobi Wine arrest triggers unrest in Uganda

People protest the arrest of Kyagulanyi during his presidential rally in Kampala, Uganda on November 18, 2020.
People protest the arrest of Kyagulanyi during his presidential rally in Kampala, Uganda on November 18, 2020. (AFP)

Wine was charged with "doing an act likely to spread infectious diseases contrary to the penal code and rules of the public health on Covid-19," said judiciary spokesperson Solomon Muyita.
Police on Friday said the death toll sparked by the protests had jumped to 37.
"Thirty-seven bodies have been counted so far," police pathologist Moses Byaruhanga said.
Police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, also told reporters that 577 suspects had been arrested across the country for alleged involvement in violence and other offences.

READ MORE: Protests in Uganda after politician and pop star Bobi Wine's arrest

Ugandan riot policemen fire tear gas canisters to disperse supporters of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi in Luuka district, eastern Uganda, November 18, 2020.
Ugandan riot policemen fire tear gas canisters to disperse supporters of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi in Luuka district, eastern Uganda, November 18, 2020. (Reuters)

Wine's NUP accused of violence at protests

Enanga said detained protesters were involved in violence including targeting members of the public who do not support Wine's National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

"What we have seen in the last few days, that is violence, vandalism, looting, intimidation and threats, are crimes that were being committed (against) people who are not pro-NUP," he said. "This is not something that we can tolerate."

Uganda, a nation of 42 million people, is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in January, with Wine emerging as a serious threat to veteran Museveni, 76, who aims to extend his rule.

Wine has amassed a large following among Ugandan youth, attracted by his bold criticism of the government, often in his lyrics.

Wine has said that being "born hustling and born to hustling parents, raised in the ghettos" meant he could understand the struggles of ordinary, impoverished Ugandans, and he has repeatedly urged Museveni to retire.

His arrest triggered immediate protests in Kampala and other major towns across the East African country. Youths have burned tyres and other material on roads and erected barriers to block traffic, demanding his release.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies