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Kenyan opposition says, ‘No reforms, no elections’

July 11, 1997

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Opposition leaders issued a bold threat Friday to Kenya’s ruler of the past 19 years: ``No reforms, no elections.″

They urged Kenyans to use ``all necessary means″ to force Moi to decrease presidential powers and increase civil liberties before a general election later this year.

The calls followed brutal attacks by police on pro-democracy demonstrators Monday that left at least nine dead and injured scores. It was the worst political violence in Kenya since 1991, when similar protests forced Moi to allow political parties.

``Kenyans should ensure by all necessary means at their disposal that the general elections are not held before reforms are effected,″ said a statement signed by 10 lawmakers, led by opposition leader James Orengo.

Orengo said the opposition was not calling for a boycott of the vote.

``We are saying more than that,″ he said. ``No reforms. No elections. We are committed to reforms to the extent that we will ensure that there are no elections.″

Moi countered that he couldn’t make constitutional changes alone _ a two-thirds vote in Parliament was required. Traditionally, however, the president and his Cabinet have proposed legislation, including amendments to the constitution.

Protesters want changes to laws they say are oppressive and would favor Moi and his ruling party in the elections. The laws, which date from British colonial rule, restrict freedom of speech and assembly, and permit officials to break up political rallies.

In a speech in Kisii, 140 miles northwest of Nairobi, Moi urged Kenyans to ignore the reformists or risk plunging their country into chaos similar to the civil wars in Rwanda and Somalia.

He said the riots had harmed the country, causing people to lose faith in the local currency, the shilling. The country’s central bank reported Kenyans were trading their shillings for dollars at a higher rate than normal.

Orengo said the protests would continue.

``The mood in the country is that there is a beginning of a revolution,″ Orengo said. ``The flame of change is flickering throughout this country.″

At the least, Kenyans will disrupt life _ and the elections _ if their demands are ignored, said Otieno Kopiyo, another opposition lawmaker.

``Kenyans have the capacity to make this country ungovernable and that is what we will do,″ he said. ``We will make it impossible for them to conduct the elections.″

Moi plans to seek a fifth five-year term. A date has not been set, but the constitution requires a ballot by the end of the year.

In his first comments since Monday’s violence, Moi accused opposition leaders of misleading Kenyans to destabilize in the country, long one of the most stable in East Africa.

Moi also told foreigners to stop interfering. Twenty-two countries, including the United States, have pressed Moi to make reforms.

``They have no moral authority to tell us to do what they don’t practice at home,″ Moi said Thursday. ``It is up to us to choose the type of democracy we want.″

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