10 March 2009

Protests and riots shake Kenyan capital

Protests and riots shake Kenyan capital
By Frank Nyakairu and Alison Bevege

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Thousands of students protested against alleged police killings in Kenya on Tuesday, but the demonstration slid into violence with shops ransacked, journalists beaten and officers pelted with stones.

In one of the worst bouts of political unrest since post-election violence at the start of last year, three shots were heard as the protest turned ugly in Nairobi city centre.

Police, who earlier took a low-key approach, moved in after the students began blocking roads, one with a petrol tanker.

The demonstration was the latest sign of widespread public frustration in Kenya with the coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

About 2,000 students poured into the centre of the capital from the University of Nairobi and Kenya Polytechnic, waving placards and chanting "Ali must go!" in reference to controversial police commissioner Hussein Ali.

Numbers quickly swelled to about 5,000, witnesses said, as slum dwellers, jobless and others joined the fray.

The demonstrators banged on cars, pulled up trees, smashed the windows of restaurants to grab food and drink, and beat half a dozen journalists with sticks. Police who tried to confront a group of protesters were met with a hail of stones.

"We supported their right to carry out a protest, but now they seem to be misusing their freedom," Julius Ndegwa, deputy provincial police boss, told Reuters.

"This is utter stupidity."

Having restored peace after a traumatic post-election crisis that killed at least 1,300 people and uprooted 300,000 more at the beginning of 2008, the unity government has stalled on political reforms and seen various corruption scandals emerge.


In recent weeks, public anger has focussed on allegations of multiple police killings of suspected members of the Mungiki criminal gang. The controversy was fanned last week by the assassination of two human rights activists and the later shooting to death by police of a student demonstrating nearby.

"The youths and young professionals are fed up with what is happening in our country," said a student leader, Victor Kaleli.

Police deny taking the law into their own hands and accuse activists of whipping up protests by exaggerating and inventing accusations. Ali ordered the arrest of three officers for firing on students last week, and has said he will not resign.

Some of Tuesday's protesters stopped to lie down in front of a city centre hotel, said to have been built by a businessman with the proceeds of the major, government-sanctioned "Goldenberg" corruption scandal in the 1990s.

"Our property! Our property!" they chanted, smashing the main sign at the entrance to the hotel car park.

Former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan told reporters in Tanzania he was confident Kenya's coalition government would hold, but added: "What they have to do is to focus on reforms and to tackle the issues of corruption and transparency ... which will restore their trust."

Shots heard, looting breaks out at Kenya protest
NAIROBI, March 10 (Reuters) - Demonstrators began ransacking shops and shots were heard on Tuesday at a political protest in Kenya, witnesses said.

A Reuters reporter said he heard three bullets fired as a protest against alleged police killings turned into a riot in Nairobi city-centre. Youths smashed the windows of restaurants, grabbing food and drink. They also beat some journalists with sticks, and stoned police officers who tried to talk with them.