Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Four Killed As Police Clash With ODM Protesters

The East African Standard (Nairobi)
17 January 2008
Posted to the web 16 January 2008 Nairobi

Members of the ODM Pentagon were tear-gassed in central Nairobi, riot police killed four people including a 10-year-old boy in Kisumu, and several others were seriously injured as the three-day countrywide mass protests began on Wednesday.

In Nairobi, Bungoma, Kisumu, Migori and Eldoret, police used live bullets to break up crowds protesting against the declaration of President Kibaki as the winner of December 27 presidential elections, in rallies banned by the Government.

Journalists watched as a lone policeman pursued and shot two youths in the chest and shoulder at close range in the volatile Kondele area of Kisumu. The 10-year-old boy was shot dead at Arina Estate in Kisumu. One of the two victims died moments after being taken to the Nyanza Provincial Hospital, where his colleague was also admitted in critical condition.

The officer kicked one of his prostrate victims thrice on the ribs before casually walking away. TV footage captured the events.

Tension also reigned in Nairobi, where armed GSU personnel and riot police patrolled the streets. The armed men had sealed off Uhuru Park, the venue of ODM's Nairobi protest rally as early as 5am, braving a chilly, rainy morning.

When the shooting began, it was again Kibera - the shattered battle-weary slum - where the first shots were fired.

Here, police shot three protesters. Three others were shot in Huruma and Mathare slums as demonstrators clashed with the law enforcers.

From Kibera slums, protesters had started marching to the city centre peacefully. But police reacted by lobbing several teargas canisters, forcing them to flee for dear life.

Organised by the Orange party to bring pressure to bear on President Kibaki over the disputed presidential vote, the protests quickly returned the country to the brink.

The protests started only hours after perhaps the most acrimonious session the country's Parliament has ever witnessed.

Mercifully, the two protagonists won't be coming face-to-face soon again after President Kibaki prorogued Parliament yesterday.

A special issue of the Kenya Gazette released yesterday stated: "In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 59 (1) of the Constitution of Kenya, the President has prorogued Parliament with effect from the 16th January, 2008".

This is a routine exercise, marking the end of the first session and prepares the stage for the official opening of the Tenth Parliament.

The full force of yesterday's protests were felt in Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kakamega, Bungoma, Nakuru, Kapsabet, Mumias, Homa-Bay and Busia.

Demanded justice and rights
In Eldoret, protesters carried placards, some of which read: "We voted Raila and you stole our vote. We demand justice and our rights. No Raila, no peace".

Where police kept off, the demonstrations went on peacefully, but violence reigned where police blocked, clobbered and tear-gassed the marchers.

"Mass action is on and will continue as scheduled," Mr Raila Odinga, the ODM leader and Lang'ata MP, said moments after he and Pentagon members Mr William Ruto, Mr Joe Nyagah, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mrs Charity Ngilu and Mr Najib Balala were tear-gassed and chased out of the city centre by riot police.

Kisauni MP Mr Ali Hassan Joho, his Hamisi counterpart Mr George Khaniri and veteran politician Mr Martin Shikuku were in the company of the ODM leaders when the entourage was tear-gassed.

Raila and the Pentagon, along with about 500 supporters, had gathered in front of The Stanley Hotel and started marching on Kenyatta Avenue towards Uhuru Park.

But as the crowd approached 680 Hotel some 400m from Uhuru Park, a convoy of riot policemen who were following them lobbed teargas canisters and charged at them.

Ahead at the Nyayo House roundabout were other armed policemen and GSU officers wielding batons ready for the protesters, who were now forced to disperse in different directions as police fired in the air.

At around 2pm, the leaders had driven into the city centre in separate cars to evade police roadblocks and later regrouped before attempting to force their way into Uhuru Park.

Few people were injured in the ensuing stampede.

After the melee, the leaders regrouped again at Serena Hotel, a stone-throw away from Uhuru Park where a contingent of over 2,000 GSU personnel stood guard with a water canon. They did not attempt to force their way to the grounds.

When police found that the Pentagon had made their way into town, a reinforcement of more GSU personnel in four lorries were dispatched to Kenyatta Avenue.

On Wednesday, Raila said he was aware of a silent shoot-to-kill order against demonstrators but vowed that nothing would stop them from fighting for justice.

"They are shooting at our supporters, but this will not intimidate us from carrying on with our protests. It is an illegal government using brute force on unarmed people," said Raila.

He added: "Wasifikirie kwamba simba akinyeshewa anakuwa paka (They should not mistake a rain-drenched lion for a cat)," he warned adding that mass action and support will not dry up and will instead build up from time to time.

Pentagon praise demos
Mudavadi and Ruto termed Wednesday's protests in Nairobi a success despite the team failing to access Uhuru Park and address a rally as planned.

"Yesterday's protests were a success and we expect a large turnout today. They thought they had blocked everybody in the estates. The fact that we managed to reach town despite the police cordon means Kenyans are determined to reclaim what rightfully belongs to them," said Ruto.

He said thousands of protesters went to the streets countrywide yesterday. He predicted that the number would double today.

Mudavadi said ODM had advised its supporters to be peaceful and accused police of trying to turn the mass protests into riots by employing unorthodox means.

"We know that police planned to turn the protests into riots so that we can be blamed but our supporters have been peaceful because what they want is justice. By the sheer number of police, one would imagine Kenya was in a state of emergency," he said.

Mudavadi said ODM was not after positions of leadership for the sake of it but the party advocated for a framework, through a mediator, that would see the establishment of a transitional Government.

The drama unfolded outside the Stanley Hotel, where the leaders had assembled shortly after 1pm.

Balala, Joho and Nyagah had earlier been tear-gassed outside the Hilton Hotel where they had met to strategise on the way forward. They then escaped towards Stanley Hotel where Raila and Ruto joined them. But minutes later, all hell broke loose.

Caught out of their vehicles, Balala and Joho fled on foot on Kenyatta Avenue with police in hot pursuit. But the politicians quickly regrouped near Teleposta Towers before driving to Serena Hotel, where they remained holed-in.

Shortly after the assault on the leaders, police started ordering businesses in the CBD to close. People were then ordered out of town. Hundreds had to walk several miles to the periphery of the city to catch means back home after public service vehicles were barred from entering town.
By 5pm, central Nairobi was a ghost town.

Effectively, the planned mass action rally scheduled for Uhuru Park, Nairobi, aborted. The rally was to start at 10am but rains that pounded the city kept supporters and organisers indoors.
The Pentagon, however, vowed to carry on with their planned three-day of peaceful mass protests terming yesterday's protests a success.

Copyright © 2008 The East African Standard. All rights reserved.
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