Police stop Kenyan opposition protest rally

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Kenyan riot police Wednesday stopped an attempt by opposition supporters here from holding their peaceful rally in protest against the disputed presidential elections.

PANA reports that anti-riot police cordoned off Uhuru park, where the protesters were to assemble, and thwarted the bid by the mostly youthful opposition backers to reach the park.

Several other factors, including a heavy downpour, also frustrated the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) members from staging the protest rally.

Heavy rains pounded the Kenyan capital Tuesday night, running through to Wednesday morning – a development that discouraged many from attending the rally.

In central Nairobi, it was business as usual in the morning with shops, banks an d other business open.

But the situation changed dramatically in the afternoon when riot police engag ed in a cat and mouse game with the protesters, firing teargas canisters to disperse the crowd and clear the streets.

Panicking shopkeepers hurriedly shut their premises, banks closed their doors an d managers asked workers to go home as police pushed people out of the central business district.

Workers in downtown Nairobi were terribly inconvenienced Wednesday evening as police blocked both private and public service vehicles.

But a determined Odinga criticised the government for “denying Kenyans the freed om to hold a peaceful rally”, and added that the draconian rule would not deter the opposition from holding rallies.

A similar situation prevailed in other parts of the country, notably Kisumu in western Kenya, where the opposition enjoys massive support.

The bone of contention in the dispute is the controversial re-election of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki.

The now disgraced Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) declared the 76-year-old Kibaki, an economist by profession, winner with 4.5 million votes against Odinga’ s 4.3 million.

An angry opposition rejected the results, claiming that the commission rigged th e elections, held 27 December, in Kibaki’s favour.

The opposition claimed that the commission ‘doctored’ the vote tally while the a ctual winner was the 63-year-old Odinga, with 4.2 million votes against Kibaki’s 3.7 million.

Lending credence to the rigging claim was ECK chair Samuel Kivuitu’s admission that he was ‘coerced’ into declaring Kibaki winner.

At one time he disowned the results.

The dispute threw the country into disarray, riots, looting and destruction of property and left 600 people dead and 275,000 displaced with about 3,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring Uganda.

Political analysts attributed the rather low turn out for the protest rallies to the fact that the opposition seized control of Parliament Tuesday night when OD M ‘s Kenneth Marende and Farrah Maalim captured the Speaker’s and Deputy Speaker’s seats respectively in the National Assembly.

“Opposition supporters appear to have calmed down after ODM captured the key parliamentary seats,” said an analyst who added that opposition supporters were now focused on the forthcoming mediation talks to be headed by former UN secretary- general, Kofi Annan.

Annan, who was due here Tuesday night, has postponed his trip due to illness. Hi s office is yet to announce the new arrival date.

His principal task will be to bring Kibaki to the negotiating table with a viewing to breaking the stalemate.

International mediators, taking note of the fact the African, European and other monitors have declared that the exercise was marred by flaws, are rooting for a power-sharing arrangement.

Kenyans believe the creation of a prime minister’s post for Odinga, son of a for mer Vice-President, Oginga Odinga, in a power-sharing set up, will help ease frayed nerves.

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