Kenya: Protesters clash with police

January 17, 2008 8:36:57 AM PST
Police fired tear gas and live rounds to break up opposition rallies in several Kenyan cities on Thursday, killing at least two protesters. The top opposition leader put the death toll at seven demonstrators shot by police. but that toll could not be independently verified.

"Everyone is scampering away from the police," said Collins Odhiambo a protester in the western town of Kisumu who carried a white handkerchief as a sign of peace. "They killed too many of us yesterday and now people are staying away because they don't want to be shot."

At least 600 people have died in the last few weeks in riots and ethnic killings that erupted in the wake of the disputed Dec. 27 presidential vote. President Mwai Kibaki won a second term according to official results, but observers said the count was rigged. The violence has marred Kenya's image as a stable democratic oasis in a war-ravaged region and damaged its tourist-dependent economy.

A Kisumu morgue attendant confirmed two bodies with bullet wounds from Thursday's clashes.

In Nairobi's Mathare slum, at least four people with gunshot wounds were taken away in ambulances, said medical worker Ruth Kagunda. A reporter watched a slum dweller brought to a Nairobi hospital die of a bullet wound.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga called for three days of demonstrations that began Wednesday. The government has banned the demonstrations, but the opposition and Kenyan human rights groups say the government has no authority to do so.

Odinga said seven people were shot and killed Thursday. Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe said police killed two "criminal" protesters, one in western Kenya and one in Nairobi.

The opposition leader told reporters the government had "issued its police force with a shoot-to-kill order. And police officers all over the country have followed that order to the letter." The police are "on a killing spree."

Kiraithe denied that charge.

In Kisumu, Kenya's third-largest city, most people stayed in their homes and just few cars were seen on the streets as small groups of protesters burned tires and set up roadblocks that police quickly dismantled. Sporadic gun shots could be heard in the morning.

Overall turnout to the rallies has been low, however, and there have been few of the serious clashes or torching of homes that immediately followed the announcement of election results last month.

"Our rallies will continue until the government sits down with us and seeks a solution," opposition spokesman Salim Lone told The Associated Press. "Calling off rallies would be admitting defeat to those who first stole the presidential election and are now killing innocent protesters on sight."

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua repeated Kibaki's position that the opposition should take its grievances to court and said the administration "is very open to dialogue."

A Red Cross medic in Nairobi's Mathare slum said his ambulance picked up a 24-year-old with deep machete cuts to his head and neck and a fractured arm. The medic asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

As he spoke, another man staggered down the road, bleeding profusely from the head and mouth. "Help me," he begged before collapsing. Jack Owich, his 22-year-old companion, said the two had been attacked by members of the rival tribe two blocks away.

In the western town of Eldoret, gunfire echoed across town as police fired warning shots to break up several dozens-strong groups who tried to gather. Some protesters overturned kiosks and pushed them into roads to block them, and tires burned in the city center.

A few dozen miles outside of Eldoret, 12 empty trucks and buses blocked a main road. The drivers, milling nearby, said they had been stopped overnight by around 150 young men armed with machetes who robbed them, flattened their tires and stole fuel. One bus was filled with aid supplies from the U.N. World Food Program. Driver Rashid Hassan, 42, said the culprits told them they had blocked the road because 'until Kibaki leaves, there is no peace."'

But many were growing weary of the violence.

"They think this will change the government, but it will not," said Mary Atieno, 27, watching protesters in the Mathare slum. "Only the ordinary man is suffering."

Atieno said she was sent home from the pharmacy she works at lunch time and had spent an hour crossing a single street blocked by skirmishes as she tried to pick up her children from school.

The local Kenya Television Network station aired footage from Tuesday of a lone policeman in Kisumu chasing a handful of unarmed young men throwing rocks, jumping up and down and making mocking gestures. The policeman then fires and two men fall. One, apparently wounded in the side, rises and then is kicked by the policeman in the side.

Morticians at a Kisumu morgue said Thursday both men were brought in after the shooting. One arrived dead and a second, shot in the lung, succumbed to his wounds overnight.

Two other corpses of adult males, both shot Wednesday, also lay in the morgue.

This week, 13 nations, including the United States and Britain, increased pressure on rival politicians to find a solution, threatening to cut aid to the government "if the commitment of the government of Kenya to good governance, democracy, the rule of law and human rights weakens."

Mutua told reporters: "The government of Kenya will not be blackmailed .... We are able to support ourselves."

About 6 percent of Kenya's budget comes from foreign aid. In Britain, the Federation of Tour Operators extended a ban on charter flights to Monday. The Press Association quoted the largest British tour operator to Kenya, Somak, as saying they were offering alternative vacations in India.

Late Wednesday, the United Nations launched an appeal for nearly $42 million to help half a million Kenyans affected by the violence.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said Wednesday that a power-sharing arrangement was "the only thing to do," but that it would not be easy to persuade Kibaki and Odinga to agree to such a compromise.


Associated Press writers Tom Maliti, Malkhadir M. Muhumed, Tom Odula and Todd Pitman in Nairobi; Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Eldoret; Katy Pownall in Kisumu; and Barry Schweid in Washington contributed to this report.