/ 18 January 2008

Kenya opposition says it’s time to move on

Opposition street protests over the disputed re-election of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki will end after demonstrations planned for Friday, a spokesperson said.

At least eight people have been shot dead by police during two days of demonstrations called by Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), who says President Mwai Kibaki stole his victory.

”These last three days have been very painful and we have seen a lot of needless deaths and suffering … but today [Friday] is the last day of the protests and we are now going to move on,” ODM spokesperson Salim Lone said.

Kenya’s rapid slide into crisis since the December 27 election has dented its democratic credentials, horrified world powers, scared off tourists and hurt one of Africa’s most promising economies.

Lone said ODM would switch to other forms of action like small strikes and boycotts of companies run by what he called government hardliners backing Kibaki.

”One of the purposes is to weaken the hardliners and strengthen the moderates,” Lone said, mentioning Brookside Dairies, Equity Bank and CityHoppa Buses as possible targets.

With talks led by African leaders producing little so far, more ODM demonstrations were due on Friday and a likely flashpoint was the mostly Muslim coastal resort of Mombasa.

Odinga’s supporters have already fought running battles there with police firing teargas, and vowed to take to the streets again after Friday prayers. On Thursday, Odinga said officers also killed seven people in Nairobi.

”The civilised nations of the world must condemn these sorts of things,” Odinga told a news conference. ”Mr Kibaki should not be allowed to follow Mr [Robert] Mugabe and take Kenya to the cesspit.”

‘Mob psychology’

Police deny targeting anyone and say the security forces have shot only looters and rioters who attacked their officers.

The government also accuses ODM of organising and planning attacks against tribes and people seen as backing Kibaki, which contributed to a death toll after three weeks of unrest of about 650 people.

The authorities have banned three days of rallies called by ODM despite calls from Western nations, including the United States and Britain, for it to allow peaceful protests.

The government says tempers are too high and that it fears rallies would degenerate into looting and rioting. Such was the case on Thursday when people in Odinga’s Nairobi constituency hijacked and looted a train passing through.

”We are dealing with mob psychology … The Kenyan police are acting within the laws of this country,” police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe told reporters on Thursday.

Both Odinga and Kibaki’s teams accuse the other of rigging votes during the December 27 poll, which international observers say fell short of democratic standards. A quarter of a million Kenyans have been uprooted by the post-election violence.

Late on Thursday, the United States blamed both sides of the political divide for the violence.

”That violence springs from the fact that there are clashes because of the political deadlock,” United States State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters.

”More than anything else they need to come together for the Kenyan people and for Kenya’s future.”

Former UN head Kofi Annan is due to lead the latest peace push after African Union talks failed last week. He was set to fly in this week but fell ill with flu. The United Nations says he is recovering but has given no date for his arrival.

Late on Thursday, local broadcaster KTN said two other members of Annan’s team of ”Eminent Africans” had arrived in Kenya — former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, and Graça Machel, wife of former South African leader Nelson Mandela. – Reuters