Imprisoned ex-opposition rioters become new bone of contention

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Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki on Sunday ruled out general amnesty to perpetrators of the post-election violence which rocked the country over disputed presidential elections.

Addressing the nation here during the celebrations to mark Kenya’s 45th anniversary of self-rule, Kibaki said the government would not allow the amnesty, noting that those responsible for the deadly unrest must face the full force of the law.

The development adds a new dimension to the rage debate, as it appears to divide the Grand Coalition Government down the middle.

Leaders on the side of Prime Minister Raila Odinga have been calling for the unconditional release of the suspects, who they described as youths who were demonstrated against rigged elections.

The violence was sparked off by the disputed 27 December 2007 presidential elections, which saw both Kibaki and the then chief opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, claim victory.

The stalemate and the consequent violence left 1,200 people dead and 350,000 displaced.

The situation has since changed, as a Grand Coalition Government hammered out under the aegis of the African Union (AU) was formed, with Odinga appointed prime minister.

But there remains a feeling among members of the Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) that thousand of innocent movement supporters (then an opposition party) were arrested.

Those clamouring for the release of the arrested suspects have challenged the police to either take them to court or release them unconditionally, instead of locking them up in custody for months, which is regarded as a violation of their basic human rights.

But leaders from President Kibaki’s side, among them Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, argue that the suspects must face the full wrath of the law regardless of the circumstances that prevailed then.

Wading into the debate, the President said Saturday: “The government will not spare those who organised the gangs that caused the mayhem. Nevertheless, those who took part in wanton acts of violence by engaging in senseless murder of innocent citizens, destruction of property or rape will face the full force of the law.” Panapress.

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