Kampala sparkles ahead of Commonwealth meeting

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KAMPALA, Nov 20 (Reuters) Uganda has frantically prettied up its capital Kampala for a major Commonwealth meeting this week, sweeping prostitutes and trash off its newly paved streets in hope of giving potential investors a sharp first impression.

Residents say Kampala has never looked better, with public gardens full of flowers and streets swept clean of the discarded plastic bags and dust that normally litter the roads.

The copper reflection of the new Imperial Royal hotel towering over central Kampala glitters in the sunshine, and roads normally cratered with potholes are smooth with fresh painted lines.

On Friday, the small east African country will host the 53-nation Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and state visit from Britain's Queen Elizabeth two days before.

For President Yoweri Museveni, the visit by the 53 leaders and 5,000 delegates is a chance to sell Uganda -- a country long associated with eccentric tyrants, civil war, poverty and child soldiers -- as a place to invest.

''It will give us a reputation ... which will bring business,'' he told reporters late on Sunday. ''Uganda's a rich country with a good climate. Investors, once they see it, will invest (and) ...

tell their friends to come and invest here.'' Kampala is one of Africa's more attractive capitals, ringed with green hills and dotted with mango trees. Its scruffy charm and tropical ambiance have long enabled visitors to overlook its dust, traffic jams, potholes and power shortages.

But not everyone is convinced the clean-up -- estimated at around 120 million dollars, which is more than some government ministries receive in a year -- is worth it.

''I don't care about CHOGM,'' said shoe-shiner James Bwabale, 25.

''When they leave, it won't benefit ordinary people.'' Critics complain that two proposed hotels -- earmarked for CHOGM and for which the government gave away prime real estate -- never materialised. Diplomats say they suspect graft.

Museveni's press secretary, Tamale Mirundi, said the government gave away the land in ''good faith'' and denied corruption claims.

''The people who are opposed to CHOGM, like the opposition, will say anything to stop it -- like accusing us of corruption,'' he said.

Minibus drivers and taxis grumble about police block roads.

Authorities have removed ''good time girls'' from the roads where they normally ply their trade.

The government defends the work as essential for the public regardless of the impending arrival of foreign ministers.

''It's all social infrastructure,'' said Kivumbi. ''We're not talking about buying government vehicles.'' As late as last week, city council workers were erecting lamp posts on highways which are usually pitch-black.

The Central Bank will this week launch a newly-minted limited edition 6 dollars note to replace grubby local notes, many of which are taped up or blackened by use.

''It's going to be great,'' said clothes importer Joy Jemba, 39.

''It will bring business. Look at how nice Kampala looks.'' Reuters RSA DB0914

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