Monday, May 23, 2016

Kenya: Police break up rotests against election body

[Reuters] Kenyan police fired teargas on Monday to disperse hundreds of protesters in Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa who were demonstrating against an
electoral body which opposition parties say is biased.

The police said they had arrested seven people in Mombasa while businesses in the city stayed closed for fear of looting, a Reuters witness said.

About 300 protesters demonstrated with placards reading "IEBC must go home now", a reference to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Protests called by the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) are now in their fourth week. In similar previous protests in the capital Nairobi, police have used tear-gas and water cannon against stone-throwing

"The demonstrations are illegal and the organizers have been clearly warned. If they insist on rioting, they will meet us there," Lucas Ogara, Mombasa's police chief, told Reuters.

Some protesters re-grouped after they had been dispersed, and were led by Mombasa County Governor Ali Hassan Joho to the local IEBC office where they handed over a petition peacefully.

Kenya's next presidential and parliamentary polls are not due until August 2017. But politicians are already trying to galvanize their supporters in a nation where violence erupted after the 2007 vote and the opposition disputed the outcome in 2013.

CORD, led by Raila Odinga who lost the 2013 vote and unsuccessfully challenged the result in court, has accused the IEBC of bias and said its members should quit. IEBC officials have dismissed the charge and say they will stay.

The government has called on the opposition not to stage street protests against the IEBC and asked them to pursue other peaceful means to bring about change.

But CORD on Sunday vowed to keep up the protests in Nairobi and other regions. "Kenyans will be doing this, as we have done in the past, in exercise of their right to assemble peaceably and to direct the widest possible attention to a great national issue," it said in the statement.

A Reuters witness in Nairobi said police also fired teargas at about 50 protesters as they tried to march on the IEBC's offices, amid heavy police presence in the streets of the capital.

In western Kenya, local Citizen Television reported that Senator Bonny Khalwale was arrested by police as he led a demonstration in Kakamega town.

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