Kenyan official says opposition leaders incited riots
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A top Kenyan government official on Sunday accused opposition leaders of inciting riots and attacks on police since a repeat presidential election, while opposition chief Raila Odinga visited a Nairobi slum and told thousands of cheering supporters that the government intends to rule by force.
As the rift between the East African country’s two main political factions appeared to widen, the Kenyan election commission was finalizing and verifying its tally of votes from an election that was boycotted by Odinga supporters, essentially yielding what they see as a hollow victory to President Uhuru Kenyatta. Odinga said in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday that the election on Thursday was a sham and that a new vote should be held within 90 days.
At least nine people have died in violence linked to the election, which was a rerun of an Aug. 8 vote that was nullified by the Supreme Court which cited irregularities and illegalities.
Some were shot by police; several died in clashes between different ethnic groups, highlighting the ethnic loyalties that drive Kenyan politics despite the disavowals of national leaders. Mobs have also looted shops and burned property in some areas.
Kenyatta, who got 54 percent of the vote in August, is from the Kikuyu community and has said the country must combat tribalism; Odinga, who got nearly 45 percent in the earlier election, is a Luo and said during a trip to the capital’s Kawangware slum on Sunday that Kenyans had been victims of “ethnic discrimination.”
“Kenyans want justice, not rule by force,” said Odinga, who held a fly whisk, a symbol of authority.
Some recent unrest has been wrongly “couched as demonstrations” by the opposition and some media outlets, and violence has “emanated from political speech” by Raila Odinga and senior aides, said Martin Kimani, a presidential envoy and head of a government task force on counter-terrorism. Odinga’s remark that he was forming a “resistance” movement and opposition comments that the government was carrying out a “genocide” against its detractors have inflamed crowds, Kimani said.
“We are looking for some suspects who are politicians,” Kimani said without providing names. He and several other government officials spoke to foreign journalists in a Nairobi hotel.
Voting was postponed in several opposition strongholds because of protests by opposition backers who stopped polling stations from opening, and built barricades and threw stones at police using tear gas and sometimes live ammunition.
On Sunday evening, commission chief Wafula Chebukati said he would soon announce a plan for four out of Kenya’s 47 counties where voting was postponed. Chebukati, who had decried political pressures before the vote Thursday and said then that he could not guarantee its credibility, declared that the election has gone well.
“We are satisfied that the process is being done in a free and fair environment,” he said.
Odinga and Kenyatta, who seeks a second term, also faced off in a 2013 election similarly marred by opposition allegations of vote-rigging. The opposition leader also ran unsuccessfully in 2007 — ethnic-fueled animosity after that vote killed more than 1,000 people and forced 600,000 from their homes.
Human rights groups say police killed dozens of people during unrest after the August vote; authorities confirmed a smaller number of deaths and said they had to take action against rioters.
Kimani, the anti-terrorism official, denied opposition allegations that security forces are engaging in a systematic campaign to violently target opposition supporters. He said opposition leaders have failed to condemn violence by their backers, instead issuing general appeals for peace with persuasive rhetoric.
“You’d think you’re listening to Martin Luther King, they sound so good,” he said wryly.