Kenya government condemns 'sabotage' plan

The Kenyan government condemned as “illegal sabotage” on Monday a plan by the opposition to widen its protests against President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election to a boycott of companies linked to his allies.

After a bloody weekend that added to the death toll of around 650 since the December 27 vote, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) vowed to continue street rallies from Thursday and also called for economic protests.

“Sabotage of companies [is] illegal and an insult to Kenyans,” the government said in a statement.

“Politicians are warned that they will be held personally responsible and accountable for any destruction of property emanating from their incitement.”

Three people were hacked to death in a Nairobi slum on Sunday and about 250 000 have been displaced in a nation more used to receiving refugees from volatile neighbours like Sudan and Somalia.

It has also damaged one of Africa’s most promising economies, cut off supplies to neighbours, and tainted Kibaki’s reputation as the man who democratised Kenya after the 24-year rule of President Daniel arap Moi.

The opposition, led by former Kibaki minister and one-time political prisoner Raila Odinga, hopes increased pressure on the president will undermine his hold on power after a vote that most foreign and local observers agree was flawed.

It has urged supporters to shun companies owned by Kibaki allies, including Equity Bank, Brookside Diaries and bus companies CityHoppa and Kenya Bus. Boycotts would hurt the poor and inflame ethnic divisions, the government said.

The boycott call may be more symbolic than real, given that many of Kenya’s poor use Equity because of its accessibility and low charges, while commuters in long queues may not want to wait even longer by shunning certain buses.

Odinga visits stronghold

Odinga was due in the western town of Kisumu, the main opposition stronghold, on Monday for a funeral service for supporters killed in protests against Kibaki and other clashes.

Residents there promised a rapturous welcome for Odinga, whom they call the “People’s President”, on his first visit to to Kisumu since the vote. The city has been devastated by riots and protests.

In the latest international mediation attempt, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan was due to fly into Kenya to start talks with both sides on Tuesday.
Diplomats hope he can bring Kibaki and Odinga into some sort of power-sharing arrangement, possibly before a fresh vote in the east African nation.

Kenyans, however, are sceptical of such a solution.

“It seems every time we vote, we bring a bloodbath upon ourselves,” said a Nairobi housewife, Joy, who asked for her surname not to be used.

“Why would we want another election? It will just bring more violence.”

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is also due to travel to Kenya in the next few days to try and help negotiations. The crisis has sent refugees fleeing into his nation and put the price of fuel up.

Because Museveni is one of only few African leaders to have congratulated Kibaki, the Kenyan opposition has questioned his impartiality as a mediator. - Reuters

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