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Kenya braces for fresh protests despite police ban

By Tanya WILLMER
Kenya Protests in Kenya last Monday descended into violence.  By Luis Tato (AFP/File)
MON, 27 MAR 2023 LISTEN
Protests in Kenya last Monday descended into violence. By Luis Tato (AFP/File)

Kenyans were bracing on Monday for a new round of anti-government demonstrations over the high cost of living, after the opposition vowed the action would go ahead despite a police ban.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga has urged people to take to the streets every Monday and Thursday, even after protests a week ago turned violent and paralysed parts of the capital, Nairobi.

But police on Sunday announced the rallies would be banned.

"We will not allow violent demonstrations," Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome told reporters.

"The demonstrations they plan tomorrow (Monday) are illegal and will not be allowed."

A university student was killed by police fire during the previous Monday's clashes while 31 officers were injured as running battles erupted between riot police and demonstrators in Nairobi and opposition strongholds in western Kenya.

More than 200 people were arrested, including several senior opposition politicians, while protesters -- including Odinga's own convoy -- were hit with tear gas and water cannon.

It was the first major outbreak of political unrest since President William Ruto took office more than six months ago after defeating Odinga in an election his rival claims was "stolen".

Police fought running battles with rioters last week.  By YASUYOSHI CHIBA (AFP/File) Police fought running battles with rioters last week. By YASUYOSHI CHIBA (AFP/File)

Despite the police ban, Odinga on Sunday called on Kenyans to join what he has called "the mother of all demonstrations".

"I want to tell Mr Ruto and the IG Koome that we are not going to be intimidated," he said. "We are not going to fear tear gas and police."

'Paralysing business'

Ruto has called on his rival to halt the action.

"I am telling Raila Odinga that if he has a problem with me, he should face me and stop terrorising the country," he said Thursday.

"Stop paralysing the businesses of mama mboga, matatu and other Kenyans," he said, referring to women stallholders and private minibus operators.

Ruto himself will be out of the country on Monday for a four-day trip to Germany and Belgium during which he will meet national and EU leaders.

Many Kenyans are struggling to put food on the table, battling high prices for basic goods as well as a plunging local currency and a record drought that has left millions hungry.

During the election campaign, Ruto portrayed himself as champion of the downtrodden and vowed to improve the lot of ordinary Kenyans.

But he has since removed subsidies for fuel and maize flour -- a dietary staple.

And last week, Kenya's energy regulatory body announced a hike in electricity prices from next month, despite Ruto insisting in January there would be no such increase.

Last week's protests proved costly, with Nairobi losing more than half its daily revenue as businesses shut their doors and people kept away from the heart of the city, the city's governor Johnson Sakaja said.

Raila Odinga (left) claims William Ruto's election victory was fraudulent.  By Patrick Meinhardt, Simon MAINA (AFP/File) Raila Odinga (left) claims William Ruto's election victory was fraudulent. By Patrick Meinhardt, Simon MAINA (AFP/File)

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said they cost the country $15 million.

Police said on Friday they had launched a manhunt for suspects involved in last week's riots, and published photographs showing people throwing rocks at police, burning tyres and vandalising property.

But an AFP Fact Check investigation found that a number of the photographs were old and unrelated to Monday's events.

And on Saturday, a red-faced Directorate of Criminal Investigations issued an apology on Twitter for what it said was a "mix-up of images".

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