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25 February 2024

Kenya braced for second day of protest rallies

By Agencies


Kenya was braced for more violence Thursday as opposition protesters try to stage a second day of nationwide protests against President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election despite a police crackdown.

Kenyan police fired tear gas and live bullets on protesters Wednesday, killing two and wounding several others, in the latest post-election violence that has claimed over 700 lives and forced over a quarter of a million people from their homes.

The worst violence Wednesday took place in the western opposition stronghold of Kisumu, the country's third city, when riot police clashed with supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

"One man was shot in the back as police were trying to disperse about 1,000 youths who were trying to gather here," a police commander told AFP, adding that several others had been wounded, one seriously.

He later said another man had died of gunshot wounds in hospital.

Three young supporters of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were also wounded when police fired live rounds in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum, an AFP correspondent and several witnesses said.

Odinga, who charges that Kibaki engineered his narrow victory in the December 27 election through a rigged ballot count, called the three days of demonstrations despite the possibility of more violence after attempts last week to get the two to enter talks to find a political solution failed to make headway.

The announcement on December 30 of Kibaki's re-election, despite concerns expressed by international vote monitors and complaints by the opposition, sparked unrest that rapidly descended into Kenya's worst tribal violence in more than a quarter century.

As protests picked up Wednesday, Odinga was defiant and warned that the victory for his movement in parliament the day before was the beginning of a fresh challenge to Kibaki's rule.

"They are shooting at our supporters, but this will not intimidate us from carrying on with our protests. It is an illegal government using brute force on unarmed people," Odinga added.

"Nothing will stop us from mounting such rallies ... We showed in parliament yesterday that there will be no business as usual in our country," Odinga added.

The victory for the opposition candidate in the election of the parliament speaker was a first setback for the government since Kibaki was sworn into office more than two weeks ago.

Justice Minister Martha Karua hoped the opposition will outlive its anger and support the government in development.

"With time, those in opposition will definitely vote for what is good for the nation. We don't expect to have problems when transacting business in the House," she told local newspapers.

In Kibera on Wednesday, Odinga's supporters vowed to continue their protests despite police crackdowns.

"The struggle goes on, we will not sleep," protestors sang in Swahili, taunting gangs of armed riot police drawn up some 300 metres away on the other side of a grassy hill.

But police vehicles cleared the central business district, shouting orders through loudspeakers for everybody to leave town, beating suspects and dispersing groups with tear gas.

"The police are using strong-arm tactics, but the people are coming out. This is not an event, it is a process and the struggle continues," ODM secretary general Anyang Nyongo told reporters.

Police fired tear gas at Nyongo and several other senior ODM leaders outside a central Nairobi hotel, causing them to seek shelter inside.

In the western city of Eldoret, which has seen the worst post-election violence, six demonstrators were wounded when the 4,000-strong crowd clashed with police.

Police broke up the protest march several times, but the demonstrators regrouped, chanting "No Raila, no peace, Kibaki must go". One cardboard banner read: "Kibaki rest in peace, in a coffin, buried alive."

Police also fired tear gas at protestors in the towns of Nakuru, Mombasa. Bungoma, Kapsabet and Migori.

Mediation efforts suffered a fresh blow Tuesday when former UN chief Kofi Annan postponed his scheduled mission to Kenya due to "severe flu".

He had been expected in Nairobi to try and broker direct talks between Kibaki and Odinga.

The Kenyan government initially urged him to stay home, arguing there was nothing to mediate, but issued a statement Wednesday, insisting he was welcome. (AFP)