/ 22 January 2008

Kenya opposition leader remains defiant

Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga vowed on Monday to step up his challenge against President Mwai Kibaki as political unrest re-opened ethnic conflicts across the country.

The tribes that voted for Kibaki in the December 27 election disputed by Odinga were being increasingly targeted by rival groups with long-running grievances in local feuds that left more than 13 dead on Sunday and Monday.

The violence that erupted after Kibaki was declared winner of the presidential election on December 30 has killed at least 700 people and displaced a quarter of a million.

In the western village of Salama, five villagers were shot dead and several houses burnt down during a raid by a local militia that is frequently involved in clashes over land issues, police and government officials said.

Most of the victims were members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, which has dominated the country’s economic life for years and has been the target of revenge attacks since Kibaki was accused of rigging the vote.

In Nairobi, opposition protests repressed by the police have transformed into tribal clashes, notably in crowded slums, ethnic tinderboxes where most of Kenya’s 42 tribes co-exist.

Overnight clashes left two dead in Huruma, one in Babadogo and two in Mathare, where police commander Paul Ruto said 12 people had been arrested following the violence.

A family of three was killed along the border of Mathare and Kibera, bringing the death toll to at least 13, police said.

The international community has urged the feuding political factions to curb the violence, but the government has vowed to crack down on anyone defying protest bans and Odinga was also in defiant mood.

The government has vowed to haul the Odinga camp to The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes linked to the razing of a church in the western city of Eldoret, where 35 people died.

But Odinga said he will also file a case regarding the shooting of demonstrators in the western city in the past two weeks.


Odinga took his first walkabout in his western Kenya strongholds since last month’s polls and was greeted in Kisumu — the country’s third city — to chants of ”Welcome mister president”.

”It is unfortunate that Mr Kibaki robbed us of victory but now his people still go ahead and kill our innocent people,” Odinga said, speaking at a funeral ceremony for recent victims of the violence in Kisumu.

Former UN chief Kofi Annan was expected in Nairobi on Tuesday to revive a moribund international mediation effort.

”When we meet Mr Kofi Annan tomorrow [Tuesday], our first demand would be to have Mr Kibaki step down so that we have a re-run of the elections,” Odinga told thousands of mourners gathered in Kisumu stadium.

His Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party has called for fresh demonstrations on Thursday, but police have vowed to block them.

Meanwhile, Kenya summoned British High Commissioner Adam Wood over comments made last week in London in which a member of the government said that London did not recognise Kibaki’s government.

”Our elections do not need a stamp of authority from the House of Commons,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told reporters.

Kenya has come under mounting criticism over the polls and its heavy-handed crackdown against opposition supporters who attempted to stage protests last week across the country.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni — who was one of the first heads of state to congratulate Kibaki on his re-election — was also expected in Nairobi on Tuesday to support dialogue and discuss regional stability.

The government has rejected the term ”mediation”, insisting there is no crisis in the country, but has welcomed African leaders to facilitate dialogue.

The ODM announced last week it would change tactics and launch a boycott of companies owned by Kibaki’s allies.

But the government, in a statement published on Monday, said the move was meant ”to create poverty and destroy the livelihood of the very poor” and accused the opposition of incitement.

”The targeting of companies and directing of supporters to target and destroy specific companies or persons is a serious crime,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, women reported a surge in cases of sexual violence mainly in the capital and the western regions that are worst affected by the fighting and killings. — Sapa-AFP