Riot police crack down on protesters in Kenya

The Guardian, NAIROBI

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 - Page 6

Kenyan security forces cracked down on demonstrators on Saturday, as crowds gathered to support defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s supreme court challenge to the results of the March 4 elections. Odinga has refused to concede to Uhuru Kenyatta, whom Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared the winner last week with 50.07 percent of the vote. Odinga’s lawyers on Saturday filed a petition alleging the elections were not free and fair due to irregularities in the commission’s methods.

Odinga accused the commission of “criminal neglect” during the election before sending his lawyers to court. Odinga said the commission was at fault for lack of transparency, discrepancies in vote tallies and registers, and the breakdown of electronic voter identification kits and results transmission systems.

“At many polling stations, the valid votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters,” he said. “These failures dwarf anything Kenyans have ever witnessed in any previous elections.”

Hundreds of Odinga supporters in white shirts bearing the slogan Democracy on Trial gathered by the court in Nairobi to support the petition. The situation grew tense as Kenyan security forces turned up on horseback and in riot gear. Just before 10.:30am, they fired teargas at the protesters and shot bullets into the air. One demonstrator and a bystander were bloodied by security forces armed with batons and rifles.

“We were here peacefully and the police come with teargas. People started running, then one officer shot a student,” said Josiah Augo, 25, a student at Kenyatta University who joined the demonstration.

Odinga’s running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, appealed for calm.

“I want to call on the police to exercise restraint,” he said.

Kenya has stayed peaceful during the elections and their aftermath, in contrast to general elections in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed. However, frustration has built among some Odinga supporters over commission missteps. Last night, students at Kenyatta University rioted and burned a vehicle after finding a room full of commission documents, including ballot boxes and unused ballots.

The commission said the materials were left behind from a mock election held a month ago.