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Ugandan president's win challenged

President Yoweri Museveni won a landslide victory in Uganda's controversial presidential election, election officials announced Wednesday, but his main opponent refused to accept the results and vowed to mount a legal fight for a new vote.

Overcoming the strongest challenge yet to his 15-year- rule, Museveni won 69.3 percent of the vote in an election that many observers considered a test of Uganda's young democracy.

His chief rival, Kizza Besigye, Museveni's former physician and a retired army colonel, took 27.8 percent. Four other candidates split the remaining votes.

"My votes are like Lake Victoria," Museveni, 56, told 30,000 cheering supporters in Kampala, on the shores of the giant lake. "They never dry up."

Museveni seized power in 1986 after a five-year guerrilla war that ended the brutal reigns of Gen. Idi Amin and Prime Minister Milton Obote, during which hundreds of thousands of Ugandas were tortured and butchered.

Museveni's supporters said he would continue policies that have reduced poverty, slashed AIDS rates and fueled economic growth, transforming Uganda from a destitute nation into to a potential African economic powerhouse.

"People in Uganda always say the elections are rigged. It has no meaning," said Martin Kizito, 19, a student who voted for the first time. "We just want Museveni to keep building our nation."

Other observers, however, said the elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud and personal attacks, have cast a shadow on Museveni's achievements and raised questions about the devotion to democracy of a man whom former President Bill Clinton praised as a new brand of African leader.

Besigye on Wednesday accused election officials of mismanaging the contest, tampering with the vote and inflating the voter rolls. He alleged that in 23 of the nation's 56 districts, Museveni supporters voted more than once, stuffed ballot boxes or threatened Besigye supporters.

"We shall challenge this election in the courts of law, and we will also consider taking some political action," Besigye said. He declined to elaborate but insisted he was advocating only legal and peaceful methods.

"The standard of democracy in Africa is a matter that continues to be of concern generally in the world," Besigye added. "This does not do much to improve our image."

An independent group of election monitors said that as much as 15 percent of the vote was subject to deliberate irregularities, based on reports from 30 districts. These included selling voter cards, beating up candidates' agents and using premarked ballots.

Other international observers said they had witnessed many cases of people voting twice. They added that Uganda's 1996 elections, which Museveni won with 76 percent of the vote, were held under better conditions.

"At that time, there was less tension, less intimidation and no army involved," said Heinz Berger, a German election monitor.

The monitors group, however, did not brand the elections unfair.

"It was an election characterized by problems, but it is also an election where people have been allowed to express their will," said the Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, the head of a group that posted 17,000 monitors at polling stations.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Museveni denied the allegations and accused Besigye's supporters of fraud.

"I'm sure a real vote is likely 75 percent, but I will take what we saved from the rigging," Museveni said.

"We don't control the civil service," the president added. "We don't control the judiciary. We don't control the police. Those are the ones who control elections."

Election officials said the elections were free and fair. "It is Besigye's right to deny the results but people voted during the day and the votes were counted in broad daylight," said Aziz Kasujja, head of the electoral commission. "I do not accept there was rigging."

Some are concerned that Museveni's controversial victory will divide the nation and anger Western donors, who give Uganda a total of some $600-million a year, around half the government's budget.

"He's lost more than he gained," said Charles Onyango-Obbo, the editor of the Monitor, Kampala's largest independent newspaper. "People are calling into question his judgment. I think there's going to be a lot more opposition to him."

Hours after the results were announced, a bomb exploded near a vegetable market in this bustling East African capital, killing one person and injuring six others.

It was unclear Wednesday night whether the bomb was related to the election outcome, police said.

_ Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.