Kenya opposition supporters defy protest ban

Friday October 13 2017
msa teargas

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir washes teargas off his face on Nkurumah Road in Mombasa. Police fired teargas at a crowd trying to march into the city centre. PHOTO | MOHAMED AHMED | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Hundreds of opposition supporters took to the streets of Kenya's main cities Friday in defiance of a government ban on protests as the country is gripped by uncertainty over its repeat presidential election.

In western Kisumu, a stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga that has been a hotspot for demonstrations, protesters blocked key roads and set piles of tyres on fire.

Police in coastal Mombasa fired teargas at a crowd trying to march into the city.

Mombasa deputy governor William Kingi, senator Mohammed Faki and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir were leading the protests when police fired the corrosive gas.


Police disperse Nasa demonstrators on Nkrumah Road in Mombasa. PHOTO | MOHAMED AHMED | NATION MEDIA GROUP

In Nairobi riot police were deployed ahead of expected protests.


Uhuru Park, where the demos have been starting, was cordoned off by police to allow military training ahead of the October 20 Mashujaa Day (Heroes' day), a national public holiday to honour those who have positively contributed to the country's history.

The officers, dressed in anti-riot gears, equally sealed off the Anniversary Towers, which houses the electoral commission IEBC headquarters.


Anti-riot police guard IEBC headquarters in Nairobi during Nasa demos on October 14. The demos resume on Friday. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Interior acting Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i on Thursday banned rallies in the centre of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, accusing opposition supporters of lawlessness after incidents in which property was destroyed, passers-by robbed or assaulted, and business disrupted.

READ: Kenya govt bans opposition protests in major cities

However the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition vowed to push on with a planned protest Friday, and stage rallies every day next week.

"We will continue with our demonstrations as planned across the country," said one of the coalition's leaders Moses Wetang'ula.

Nasa supporters in other urban centres --including in western Homa Bay, Butere, Ugunja and Busia towns-- also took to the streets Friday demanding changes in the electoral commission before the repeat poll.


Anti-IEBC protesters used burning tires to barricade roads in Homa Bay. PHOTO BARACK ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Nasa demonstrators march along the main street of Busia town. Police kept guard as the protesters demonstrated. PHOTO | GAITANO PESA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Gunshot wounds

The protests come as Kenya is mired in confusion over a presidential election that is due to take place in less than two weeks, on October 26.

The country's Supreme Court annulled the results of an August 8 election — won by President Uhuru Kenyatta — citing irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The decision was a rare victory for Odinga, a veteran opposition leader who failed to win election in 1997, 2007 and 2013, claiming to have been cheated of victory in the latter two votes.

Many observers agreed the 2007 election was deeply flawed, and it triggered politically motivated tribal violence that left more than 1,100 dead.

Violence in the days after this year's election left 37 dead, according to a local human rights group which said these were mostly at the hands of police.

Several were treated for gunshot wounds on Wednesday in Kisumu, according to a doctor at the local hospital.

The Supreme Court said a new election must take place within 60 days, and Odinga has demanded fundamental reforms such as the sacking of top IEBC officials and the recruitment of new companies to print ballot papers and run election technology.

While the IEBC has made some concessions to the opposition, it says these demands are impossible to meet in the constitutionally-mandated period.

Odinga has argued that his withdrawal from the race forces the IEBC to cancel the election and begin the whole process from scratch — allowing more time for his reforms.

READ: Raila's move confounds supporters, critics

However the IEBC appears to be pushing forward with plans for an October 26 vote, saying only that Odinga had yet to submit the required form to officially pull out of the race.

READ: Kenyan court clears way for October fresh polls