Kenya opposition calls off protest

Tear gas, water cannon and bullets fired as police stop demonstrators from rallying.

    Thousands of riot police and paramilitary units were deployed to prevent
    the banned protest from going ahead [AFP]

    Opposition leaders have postponed a demonstration against Mwai Kibaki's re-election as president following a disputed election on December 27 after running battles between police and protesters in Nairobi.

    Thousands of supporters of Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, left the capital's slums on Thursday to march to the banned rally, but were stopped by Kenyan police using tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition.

    William Ruto, a leader of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), said: "We shall end our meeting here. As ODM we are peaceful people. We will hold a peaceful meeting on January 8.

    In video

    Kenyan police and protesters clash at election rally

    "We don't want any more lives lost. Our fight is not with ordinary Kenyans. Our fight is with Mwai Kibaki."

    More than 300 people have been killed and an estimated 100,000 displaced during nearly one week of violent unrest following Kibaki's victory.

    There were no immediate reports of casualties in Thursday's clashes with police.

    A protest planned for Kenya's second city, Mombasa, was also cancelled to prevent further fighting. 

    In the western city of Kisumu, police said that two opposition politicians were arrested.

    "Two ODM lawmakers for Kisumu Town East, Shabir Shabeer, and Kisumu Town West, Olago Aluoch, have been arrested for mobilising the ODM supporters to demonstrate in town," Michael Baraza, Nyanza province police commander, told AFP news agency.

    Vote-rigging claims

    Odinga, who led Kibaki in opinion polls before the election, claims that the government rigged the tallying process after the poll.

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    The opposition leader has said he is prepared to enter into dialogue with Kibaki only if he concedes that he lost the election. Odinga has also proposed setting up an interim power-sharing government to prepare for a re-run of the vote.

    Kibaki's supporters have blamed Odinga for the wave of violence that has spread across the country, immediately targeting the president's Kikuyu tribe. However, revenge killings by Kikuyus are reportedly on the rise.

    On Thursday, 104 politicians that support Kibaki urged the International Criminal Court to bring genocide charges against the opposition. 

    "We are calling for ... the indicting of Orange Democratic Movement leaders by the International Criminal Court on charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide," Mohammed Yusuf Haji, an MP, said reading from a statement.

    International observers said the election fell short of democratic standards and both sides have accused each other of electoral fraud.

    Investigation demanded

    Amos Wako, Kenya's attorney general, has called for an independent investigation into the results.

    "It is necessary ... that a proper tally of the valid certificates returned and confirmed should be undertaken immediately on a priority basis by an agreed and independent person or body," he said in a televised statement.

    "Such an exercise will go a long way in assuaging the inflamed passions of people," Wako said. But he noted that while the tally should help with mediation, only the constitutional court could overturn Kibaki's win.

    Paul East, the deputy head of the Commonwealth election observer group, said that Kenyans had "no confidence in the final results that were announced".

    As such, he said it was important to have outside judges deciding on who the winner is or whether to hold another election especially after electoral officials said they saw documents being tampered with.

    "We're now in a position where it is just impossible to know who should have won the presidential election," East told New Zealand's National Radio network.

    "And this is now confirmed by several of the [Kenyan] electoral commissioners who have now stated that they saw changes to documentation that was presented to them."

    International mediation

    Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, and Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, have urged the two rivals to seek a coalition government, an EU spokeswoman said after the two spoke by telephone.
    "They agreed the focus should be on pressing the parties to engage in dialogue and make every effort to agree on seeking to establish a coalition government," she said.
    Solana also raised with Rice the possibility of a joint EU-US mission being sent to Kenya.

    Thousands of people left Nairobi's slums
    to march to the opposition rally [AFP]
    John Kufuor, the chairman of the African Union, is expected to speak to Kenya's president by telephone but the Kibaki's government does not seem keen on international mediation.

    "We think that the government is resisting this mediation attempt from the African Union, the UK, the US and the European Union," Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's Africa bureau chief, said.

    "However, the former president of Sierra Leone, Tejan Kabbah, is in the capital and I understand he is having talks at a low level. He is trying to be sensitive, he is trying to use diplomacy to get some sort of progress."

    Desmond Tutu, South African Nobel peace laureate, is also in Nairobi to try to mediate between Kibaki and Odinga.

    Meanwhile, Uganda's president has become the first African leader to endorse Kibaki's victory.
    "President Museveni telephoned President Kibaki to congratulate him on his re-election as president," said a statement by a spokesman for Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and himself won an election marred by fraud claims in 2005.
    The only other nation to congratulate Kibaki has been the United States, but Washington has since expressed concerns at election violence and irregularities.
    Newspapers united in pleas for peace on Thursday, with every major newspaper running the same front-page headline: "Save Our Beloved Country."
    "Kenya is a burnt-out, smouldering ruin. The economy is at a virtual standstill and the armies of destruction are on the march," said the Daily Nation.
    "In the midst of this, leaders - who are the direct cause of this catastrophe - are issuing half-hearted calls for peace, from the comfort of their hotels and walled homes in Nairobi, where they are conveyed in bullet-proof limousines."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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