Sporadic clashes as Kenya opposition stages third day of protests

By Hillary ORINDE
Kenya Protesters set fire to tyres in Kibera, an opposition bastion in the capital Nairobi.  By Yasuyoshi CHIBA (AFP)
Protesters set fire to tyres in Kibera, an opposition bastion in the capital Nairobi. By Yasuyoshi CHIBA (AFP)

Sporadic violence broke out in Kenya on Thursday, the third day of opposition demonstrations to protest at the government and the high cost of living.

Security was tight, with police in riot gear patrolling the capital Nairobi after fierce clashes erupted during similar protests on Monday.

On Thursday, dozens of people in the congested Nairobi neighbourhoods of Mathare and Kibera engaged police in running battles, throwing rocks and burning tyres while officers responded with tear gas.

In opposition leader Raila Odinga's lakeside bastions of Kisumu and Homa Bay in western Kenya, protesters also hurled rocks at police and lit bonfires in the middle of the road.

Odinga has called for protests every Monday and Thursday, accusing President William Ruto of stealing last year's election and of failing to control the surging cost of living.

The demonstrations -- declared illegal by the government -- have turned violent on previous days, with police firing tear gas, water cannon and occasionally live bullets, while looters have gone on the rampage.

Two civilians have been killed and 51 police officers and 85 civilians injured, according to government figures.

The international community and religious leaders have called for calm, voicing fears that the violence could degenerate into the ethnic post-election fighting witnessed after the 2007 election that claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people.

"We are deeply concerned by the recent unrest and violence as well as destruction of places of worship and private property," eight foreign embassies, including the United States and former colonial power Britain said in a joint statement Wednesday.

"We therefore call on all leaders and all Kenyans to maintain peace, show restraint, and work toward a swift resolution for the common good of Kenya."

The African Union also appealed Tuesday for calm and political dialogue to put paid to chaos.

'Portrait of anarchy'

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki vowed that anyone "irrespective of the political party" inciting public disorder or disturbing the peace would face prosecution.

"The current portrait of anarchy, and the unfolding criminal madness must stop," he said in a statement. "The unfolding situation portends grave danger to the rule of law and the stability of our country."

On Monday, police fired tear gas in Nairobi and Kisumu to disperse crowds, and also aimed canisters at Odinga's convoy and cars carrying journalists.

At least 2,000 looters descended on former president Uhuru Kenyatta's vast farm on the outskirts of Nairobi, stealing sheep and cutting trees before setting a section of the property on fire, police said.

Kenyatta backed Odinga's candidacy in the presidential poll in August last year after falling out with his former deputy Ruto.

Gangs also targeted Odinga's gas company Spectre International Ltd in Nairobi.

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

Inflation was running at 9.2 percent in February with food inflation at 13.3 percent.

The Central Bank of Kenya on Wednesday raised its benchmark lending rate by 75 basis points to 9.5 percent, auguring costlier loans for Kenyans.

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.