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Guards for African leaders battle; dozen injured

  • Story Highlights
  • Ugandan officer reports tensions with Libyan leader's guards during visit
  • Leaders gathered for opening of massive mosque in Kampala, Uganda
  • About a dozen presidential guards seen bleeding from compound fractures
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From Samson Ntale
CNN
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KAMPALA, Uganda (CNN) -- A fight between Ugandan and Libyan presidential guards sparked chaos during a ceremony attended by the heads of state from 11 African nations on Wednesday.

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni attend the opening of the mosque.

Several of the guards to the visiting heads of state from Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti sustained serious injuries in the fight, which included punches, kicks and the drawing of guns.

No leaders were hurt in the melee, though several were knocked over. Several journalists also were caught up in the fracas and suffered injuries or lost their grips on cameras and recorders.

The incident occurred at the opening of a massive Gadhafi National Mosque in Kampala, a structure begun by the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1972 and completed with financing from Libya, according to African media reports.

Minutes after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and his host, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, jointly unveiled a plaque to mark the event, the Libyan guards pushed away the guards of other delegations at the mosque's entrance.

The Ugandan guards -- who had traded hostilities with the predominantly-Arab Libyan guards at every joint event since Gadhafi's arrival in the country Sunday -- reacted with fury and fought back.

Museveni briefly lost his balance when a hefty Libyan guard pushed him to a wall. Another Libyan guard pushed Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who also lost his balance but was caught by his own guards.

The vice president of Tanzania was knocked over by fighting guards as he was taking his shoes off to enter the mosque.

Guards to the rest of the visiting presidents and prime ministers kept their respective leaders out of the fray, with some drawing their guns as the dignitaries looked on in disbelief. Some leaders -- notably those from Somalia, Burundi and Djibouti -- were visibly uneasy as guns were drawn on all sides.

By the time the fight was over more than six minutes later, about a dozen presidential guards were left bleeding from compound fractures and the Libyan and Ugandan protocol officials traded bitter accusations of disrespect and racism.

"What are your people up to? Do you want to kill our leader?" a Libyan protocol official said to his Ugandan counterpart.

The Ugandan official, who declined to be named, shouted back, "Why do think you're superior? What makes you think Uganda has any ill intention against Gadhafi?"

The Ugandan official said Museveni's guards were simply doing their job as security for the host country and had a right to respond when the Libyan guards pushed them back.

It has taken 36 years to complete the giant mosque on a hill in the heart of Kampala. It used to be a colonial fort named after British Capt. Frederick Lugard.

The mosque can accommodate as many as 17,000 people at one time, according to the engineers, who call it the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many Muslims interviewed said the mosque's opening evoked sweet memories of Amin, the deceased dictator.

"It is a great day and thanks be to Allah for the completion," said Salim Abdul Noor, 39. "This should remind us that while Amin is demonized as Africa's worst dictator, there are many things he did for this country that successive governments largely depend on, and much of the completed installations and structures like this beautiful mosque was Amin's dream, may Allah rest him in peace."

The Swedish vice president of the European Islamic Conference, Adly Abu Hajar, 57, said the mosque heals rifts in a religion introduced to Uganda in 1844 by Arab slave traders.

"I find this complex has brought unity among Muslims in Uganda. There have been so many factions, but this attraction has brought them together, identifying themselves with a common home."

The fight prompted a crisis meeting by Ugandan security authorities, after which invited diplomats from mainly the European missions in Uganda expressed dismay.

"It's disgrace. It shows there is something wrong yet unknown between the two parties," said the head of one European mission in Kampala, who declined to be named.

The police chief, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, and the head of the army, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, declined to comment on the fight.

But Capt. Edison Kwesiga, the spokesman of the Ugandan Presidential Guard Brigade, confirmed their hostile relationship with the Libyans.

"It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of any visiting head of state. We have to do our job using any means. But our Libyan brothers always want us to fail. True, it's not the first time they come and act as you see," Kwesiga said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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