* Besigye says Amin built colleges and hospitals
* Tyrant still popular in parts of East African nation
* Uganda holds national elections on February 18
By Barry Malone
KAMPALA, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Uganda's main opposition election hopeful praised former despot Idi Amin at a rally over the weekend, saying he had done more for the country than long-serving President Yoweri Museveni.
Kizza Besigye, leader of four-party coalition Inter Party Cooperation (IPC), made the remarks at an election rally in Arua, a town in Amin's West Nile birthplace.
"Many people have been saying that Amin was not educated but what Amin built can still be seen," Besigye told a crowd of about 20,000 supporters.
"We have Muni National Teachers College, which is one of the biggest in the country. Where is Museveni's college in West Nile?"
The opposition leader said Amin had built the country's main airport and that Museveni let a national airline started by Amin go bankrupt.
The brief remarks that could prove unpopular with many Ugandans overshadowed other issues Besigye mentioned in a long speech and were prominently featured in several newspapers on Sunday and Monday.
Besigye will be the main threat to Museveni, who marked his 25th year in office last week with celebrations, when Ugandans go to the polls on February 18.
"CRUELTY WITH CHARM"
A man who expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, Amin was denounced inside and outside Africa as a brutal dictator. Some estimates say more than 300,000 were killed during his rule.
A former army boxing champion with a penchant for wearing kilts, he came to power in a 1971 coup and his rule was marked by buffoonery and violent purges.
Such was the fear he inspired that stories of him being a cannibal who kept severed heads in his fridge and fed corpses to crocodiles spread around the world, though they have now largely been discounted by historians.
He is accused of ordering one of his wives dismembered by a soldier -- a scene depicted in "The Last King of Scotland", a Hollywood movie about his life.
"Museveni is proud of his soldiers," Besigye continued to cheers and laughter from the crowd. "But all of his soldiers are sleeping in Amin's barracks."
Despite revulsion towards Amin by many in the country, some Ugandans have an ambivalent attitude towards him - springing from his complex marriage of savage cruelty with charm, chutzpah and development achievements.
The Amin era ended in 1979 when neighbouring Tanzania invaded and helped Ugandan rebels oust him. He was given sanctuary in the name of Islamic charity by Saudi Arabia Arabia where he lived quietly with four wives until his death in 2003.
(Editing by George Obulutsa)