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Milton Obote, 80, Uganda prime minister

KAMPALA, Uganda -- Milton Obote, Uganda's first prime minister and a two-time president whose initial term ended with a coup led by Idi Amin and whose second was known for its harsh repression, died yesterday at a South African hospital. He was 80.

The politician died after a series of illnesses, said Henry Mayega, secretary-general of Mr. Obote's Ugandan People's Congress. He had been living in exile in Zambia.

The son of a chief and farmer in the Langi tribal area of northern Uganda, Mr. Obote served as Uganda's first prime minister following independence in 1962, when the country was ruled by King Mutesa II. He staged a coup in 1966 and declared himself president.

Anger over Mr. Obote's decision to disband Uganda's four traditional monarchies and to institute a socialist system caused his popularity to plummet. He relied on arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial executions to maintain power.

While at a summit in Singapore in 1971, Amin, Mr. Obote's trusted aide, seized control of the country.

Mr. Obote sought refuge in neighboring Tanzania, where he was protected by his friend, then-President Julius Nyerere, whose soldiers later helped Ugandan rebels overthrow Amin in 1979.

Mr. Obote returned to power the following year, but Uganda's current president, Yoweri Museveni, raised an army and fought a civil war against Mr. Obote from 1980 to 1985.

Mr. Obote was ousted for a second time in a 1985 coup and Museveni took control.

Museveni's government estimates more than 500,000 civilians died in the early 1980s from Mr. Obote's policies of forcing residents out of rural areas and into cities.

In 1999, Museveni said he would not stop Mr. Obote from returning to Uganda, but neither would he stop prosecution of Mr. Obote for crimes against humanity if he did return.

James Rwanyarare, a senior Congress official and a longtime friend of Mr. Obote, said the country had lost one of its founding fathers.

''This man built our nation, and he has been keeping us together since independence in 1962," he said.

His feelings were not shared by everyone in Uganda, where Mr. Obote's control of the Ugandan People's Congress from exile was often used as a specter to discourage support for multiparty politics.

''That man is better dead, he killed many people," said George Ssali, a Kampala resident. ''The nation should not remember him. It is a good riddance."

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