Kenyan police fired tear gas and live bullets to clear machete-waving gang members who blocked roads with burning cars and set a police post on fire Monday as they protested the killing of an imprisoned gang leader’s wife.
At least one person was killed in the violence, reminding Kenyans of the fragility of the country’s peace after months of postelection riots.
Members of the Mungiki, an outlawed quasi-religious sect linked to a string of beheadings, held protests in several cities across the country to demand the release of their leader from prison. Protesters also accused police of being behind last week’s killings of the gang leader’s wife and their acting leader’s brother.
Police chief Gideon Amalla said one person was shot dead in Thika, 40 kilometres northeast of the capital of Nairobi.
Police officer Willy Lugusa said that the main east-west road running through the country had been blocked but was quickly cleared.
In the capital, an Associated Press reporter saw roadblocks of burning tires and gang members pulling people out of vehicles.
Local resident Cliff Owino said vehicles in the slum of Mathare were being stoned and shots fired.
Several burnt-out, smoldering cars were blocking roads and about a dozen riot police with shields and masks were patrolling a main roundabout littered with broken glass and the blackened shell of a minibus.
“This now is all because of the Mungiki,” said Peter Nyaga, who works at a milling factory. “They are everywhere here.”
In another part of the city, around 200 members of the Mungiki gang armed with machetes and sticks blocked a road. Police fired tear gas at them but failed to disperse them.
In another area, a police post was set on fire and residents cowered behind closed doors as police battled gang members with live bullets and tear gas down alleys blocked by burnt-out cars.
The Kenya National Youth Alliance, the political wing of the Mungiki gang, released a statement accusing police of the two killings last week.
“On the atrocious murders of the loved ones at the hands of the ruthless police force, the government in its impunity has continued committing extra-judicial killings and is responsible for these two murders.”
National police spokesman Eric Kiraithe denied any police involvement in the killings.
“That is totally false accusations. Why the police want to kill this woman?” he asked. “If we are interested in the wife of the criminal we would have taken her to court.”
He also rejected claims that police used sect members during the country’s postelection violence earlier this year.
“Those accusations are really false,” he said.
Gang members say they were approached by politicians to act as an ethnic militia during the violence that followed December’s disputed election in which over 1,000 people died. (AP)
Banned Kenyan gang holds protests in several cities