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7/21/2005

Kenyan police clash with protesters

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 6:19 am

Kenyan security forces battled stone-throwing protesters and looters in Nairobi in a second day of unrest touched off by moves to protect the president’s power in an overhaul of the nation’s constitution.

One person was killed, at least seven arrested and four injured as riot police and troops fought street battles that criss-crossed the capital and shuttered many stores.

Kenyans making their way home from work moved in panicked groups across the glass-strewn streets, fleeing wind-whipped teargas clouds and soldiers chasing protesters and looters.

In several hours of skirmishes, police and soldiers turned water cannons on pockets of protesters, fired teargas, beat ringleaders and hurled back stones tossed at them.

Standing in front of the police lines, scores of people sang songs calling for an uprising. “Even if you kill us, we still want our constitution,” they chanted.

Protesters dragged metal kiosks into the streets to frustrate their pursuers, threw garbage cans, rocks and furniture and lit fires at intersections. Some took advantage of the chaos to steal, leading to one looter’s death.

“He was looting and was cornered by the public and killed,” said Nairobi police chief Kingori Mwangi. “We did not fire even a single live bullet.”

Groups opposed to President Mwai Kibaki’s handling of the constitutional reform process had called for three days of protests before Friday’s deadline for parliament to finalise its version of the new document prior to a referendum.

The protests have been banned by the authorities.

The most contentious issue is the president’s power which the latest version, the Kilifi Draft, by a government-dominated parliamentary committee leaves virtually untouched.

A previous version – the so-called Bomas Draft – from a wide cross-section of Kenyans recommended most authority go to a new prime minister’s post.

‘Havoc’

“The common citizen wants the Bomas draft and a small clique of MPs want the Kilifi Draft,” said Nicodemus Nyabwa, a bystander who was caught up in the chaos.

“This is what has caused the havoc. President Kibaki should give the people the constitution they want.”

Most Kenyans are disillusioned with Kibaki’s two-and-a-half year rule, saying he has failed to live up to his 2002 election pledge to end the tribal politics and corruption that flourished under predecessor Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year rule.

Critics say cronyism is rife in Kibaki’s government, which they accuse of watering down initial cross-party recommendations for rewriting the constitution, drawn up by Kenyans before independence from Britain in 1963.

Members of Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition have accused opposition parties of trouble-making hypocrisy, saying they failed to deliver a new constitution in the past.

By late afternoon, the streets of central Nairobi were strewn with stones and garbage. Police barricaded roads and shops were locked up, many with people cowering inside.

“They are just looters, idlers, thieves and time-wasters throwing stones. It’s just stupid people. We cannot leave now or go about our duties,” said Vicki Lucas, a pharmacist locked in her store with about 10 other people.

Many shop fronts, telephone booths and car windows were smashed. Several dozen movie-goers were forced to stay in a downtown theatre while the mayhem died down.

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