Kenya's opposition has called for three days of rallies across the country and sanctions against the government to protest the president's disputed re-election, igniting fears of a return to the deadly violence that has tainted Kenya's democratic credentials.
Police, citing a government ban on rallies after the December 27 election, said the protests would not be allowed. More than 500 people have died in protests and ethnic violence since the election.
The calls on Friday for protests in 28 locations across the East African country followed the failure of days of international mediation to break a deadlock between President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, who came in second after a tally that foreign observers say was rigged.
Now, it seems, the opposition sees little recourse other than taking to the streets.
"Kenyans are entitled to protest peacefully at this blatant violation of their fundamental rights," said Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. Rallies were planned for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Nyongo also called for economic sanctions, saying it would be irresponsible for international donors to "trust this government with a single cent which is going to be used to oppress the people and to perfect the art of stealing both the vote and our national resources."
Police and opposition supporters have clashed in previous attempts to demonstrate, with police firing tear gas, water cannons and live bullets over people's heads.
"We should reject violence and calls for demonstrations that do not improve our livelihoods but sustain political mischief of a few people," government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.
Human rights activists who have denounced the police for alleged unjustified killings and excessive force said on Friday they had information some police officers were plotting to harm them. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the charges were "lies."
Government officials have allegedly given police uniforms to members of a banned sect and dispatched them to seven cities and towns where the opposition has strong support, including the capital, Nairobi, said Joseph Misoi, an Orange Democratic Movement official.
Misoi declined to tell journalists on Saturday what evidence the party has to support its allegations. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe could not be reached on his mobile phone for comment.
Jendayi Frazer, the US's top diplomat for Africa, said in a statement on Saturday that Kibaki and Odinga should sit together and without any preconditions discuss how to end Kenya's postelection violence, "in a way that reflects the will of the Kenyan people."
"Both must take forthright steps to end violence and ensure respect for the rule of law consistent with respect for human rights. This particularly includes restoration of media freedom and freedom of peaceful assembly," Frazer said, referring to a government ban on live broadcasts and public rallies.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has agreed to take over mediation but is not expected to arrive in Nairobi before Tuesday, his office in Geneva said. The British Foreign Office has said Annan will work with Graca Machel, the wife of Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela, and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.
African Union chairman President John Kufuor of Ghana left on Thursday after two days of mediation failed to persuade Kibaki and Odinga to agree even to meet.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a speedy resolution through dialogue so that "the country returns to its peaceful and democratic path."
In a statement, he noted concerns about the vote tally, and he said it was "worrisome" that much violence was directed against specific communities. "The killings must stop, alleged human rights violations should be investigated and those found responsible for crimes should be held accountable for their actions," the statement said.
Kenya is crucial to the war on terrorism, having turned over dozens of people to the US and Ethiopia as suspected terrorists. It also allows American forces to operate from Kenyan bases and conducts joint exercises with US troops in the region.
The US is a major donor to Kenya, long seen as a stable democracy in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan. Aid amounts to roughly $1 billion (Dh3.65 billion) a year, the US Embassy said. (AP)
Kenyan opposition calls for 3 days of protests