British Queen Opens Commonwealth Summit

The Associated Press
Friday, November 23, 2007; 5:39 PM

KAMPALA, Uganda -- Presidents and prime ministers from Britain and its former colonies discussed democracy, human rights and the rule of law Friday at the start of a Commonwealth summit, while police and anti-government protesters clashed nearby.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, as the ceremonial head of the 53-nation Commonwealth, opened the three-day biennial summit. Participants then moved to a resort at Lake Victoria, where they planned two days of informal talks on climate change, democracy, education and trade.

Up to 100 opposition supporters gathered near the summit site in the capital for a protest and were attacked by police wielding batons and sticks, said Beti Kamya, an opposition lawmaker. The crowd responded by throwing empty bottles and stones, she said.

"This incident was a continuation of their policy to threaten and intimidate the opposition," Kamya said, adding that police outnumbered the protesters.

Three protesters were seriously injured, including one who was beaten unconscious, she said.

Police spokesman Edward Ochom said the protesters started the violence by throwing stones when officers tried to keep them away from the summit. He had no details about injuries or arrests.

Kizza Besiyge, Uganda's main opposition leader, had told the protesters: "We express disappointment with the queen and the Commonwealth. The queen is not there for the poor people in the Commonwealth."

Britain last year slashed its poverty reduction aid to Uganda, saying it would spend 35 million pounds (now $72 million) on poverty reduction in 2006-07 instead of the 55 million pounds ($113 million) originally planned.

Explaining the cut in Uganda aid, British International Development Secretary Hilary Benn cited "concerns about governance, public administration expenditure, and some of the government's new budget plans."

In a pre-summit meeting Thursday, a committee of Commonwealth foreign ministers suspended Pakistan after that country's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, failed to meet the group's deadline for ending a state of emergency and stepping down as army chief.

The group cannot impose economic sanctions or even expel a country. Suspended countries can play no part in Commonwealth meetings but remain part of the organization.

Pakistan's government on Friday condemned its banishment as "unreasonable and unjustified."

"The pace of progress towards normalcy will be determined by ground realities and legal requirements in Pakistan rather than unrealistic demands from outside," a government statement said.

Pakistan was last kicked out of the Commonwealth in 1999 after Musharraf seized power in a coup. It took the country five years to be reinstated.


Associated Press writers Godfrey Olukya and Jill Lawless in contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press