The police in Uganda have apologised to the Catholic Church and the people of Buganda for firing tear gas during Mass to enforce social distancing.
The Mass was led by Bishop Emeritus John Baptist Kaggwa of Masaka, who was holding a thanksgiving service for the outgoing leader of the Mbogo clan, Gajuule Kayiira Kasibante, at the community’s ancestral site in Mugulu.
As more clan members approached in a fleet of taxis and began pouring into the already crowded gathering, military officers and the Mityana district police began to fire tear gas to disperse crowds and prevent more people entering the venue.
Some of the elderly Massgoers in attendance reportedly fainted after inhaling the tear gas, which was also inhaled by the presiding bishop and a number of the Mbogo clan leaders.
Speaking at the Uganda Media Centre, police spokesman Fred Enanga apologised to Bishop Kaggwa and other attendees for the unintended disruption but insisted that social distancing enforcement remains the police’s overriding priority.
“It was not intentional and we come to apologize to all those who were directly impacted by the tear gas; that is the Catholic Church, the retired Bishop Kaggwa and members of the Mbogo clan. We call upon coordination, for all forms of religious, all cultural functions should also know that such large gatherings were actually prohibited because health and safety is the number one priority during this period,” said Enanga.
The police spokesman said the Bugandan leaders and their supporters were also to blame for coming in such large numbers and failing to respond to the police’s requests to disperse.
“At some stage our officers found themselves confronted by the supporters of these politicians who wanted to gain access to the venue. All other efforts to disperse them failed and the only option left was to deploy tear gas,” said Enanga.
Charles Peter Mayiga, head of the local government of Buganda, condemned the police’s actions as disproportionate and insisted that the thanksgiving service had respected the national coronavirus guidelines.
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