/ 18 April 2008

Kenyan police fire tear gas at women gang members

Police fired tear gas at women members of a feared Kenyan gang on Friday as they tried to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

About 50 women, many of them elderly or with children on their backs, assembled at Odinga’s party headquarters, asking to speak with him about alleged illegal police killings of gang members and about land issues and jobs.

They said they were members of the Mungiki, an outlawed, quasi-religious gang dedicated to preserving the culture of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe.

No injuries were immediately reported.

The gang accuses police of responsibility for the killings of more than 450 young Kikuyu men. A government-funded human rights body has said there is ”substantial circumstantial” evidence linking police to the fatalities, but police have vigorously denied that.

Fourteen people died this week in clashes between police and the gang, which was protesting against the killings of the wife and brother of two senior gang members. The gang reacted by paralysing parts of the capital by threatening to behead anyone driving or riding a bus.

On Thursday, Odinga publicly urged the Mungiki and the government to enter into talks, as he was sworn in as prime minister as part of a power-sharing deal that ended weeks of violence in Kenya following December’s disputed election results.

”We are mothers, and grandmothers, and as parents we have come to try to solve the issues our children face by discussing them with his Excellency, the Prime Minister Raila Odinga,” said Nook Kaman (60), one of the women gang members.

The Mungiki accept women members, but only if they are circumcised and wear skirts.

Area police boss Hassan Abdi said the police fired tear gas on Friday because the women not allowed into the party headquarters without a permit. — Sapa-AP