Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kenyan opposition protests flop in capital

Wed Jan 16, 2008 1:04pm EST
By Tim Cocks

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Just a few hundred tired-looking demonstrators marched in Kenya's capital on Wednesday before being chased back into their slums by police firing teargas.

It was a far cry from the millions of supporters on the streets demanded by opposition challenger Raila Odinga, who says President Mwai Kibaki stole victory at the December 27 election.

More than two weeks after Kibaki was sworn in, many of Odinga's supporters did demonstrate on Wednesday, especially in the western towns of Eldoret and Kisumu.

Some set up road blocks, burnt tires and chanted slogans. Police shot dead two men in Kisumu, adding to a post-poll death toll of 600 people -- mostly victims of mobs supporting Odinga.

But apart from a few small rallies that were quickly quelled by police firing shots and teargas canisters, Nairobi did not see the mass action Odinga had wanted.

Even the tin-roof slum of Kibera, east Africa's biggest shanty-town and an Odinga stronghold, could only muster a few hundred, some throwing stones at police.

Youths blocked a main road in Kibera with logs, branches and rocks, shouting "No Raila, No Peace!". One paraded an effigy of Kibaki nailed to a rusty metal cross.

"We're not afraid of police from an illegitimate government," said a boy biting on an empty bullet cartridge, before running as fast as he could when officers approached.

Odinga says most supporters were scared off the streets.

But the thousands walking home late on Wednesday into Kibera belied a simpler reason why so many did not join the rally: they had to go to work. Protesters heckled some as they returned.

In another part of the slum, police shot and injured three youths as they ran. "I was trying to escape and I got a bullet in my leg," said 18-year-old Oscar Junior from his hospital bed, adding that he had just been out shopping.

Security forces say they are trying to stop more riots and looting that has already made thousands of people homeless.

Perhaps reflecting embarrassment at media attention, police baton charged and tear gassed a pack of journalists in Nairobi.

"Do you want to lose your life?" one officer told Reuters, when asked why they were targeting the press.

(Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Giles Elgood)

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