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Kenyan opposition supporters to demonstrate as crisis baloons

By Bogonko Bosire
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

(AFP) - Kenyan opposition supporters were set Wednesday to defy a police ban and start nationwide demonstrations over the disputed presidential election, raising fears of another wave of violence that has already killed hundreds.


Bouyed by his party clinching the post of parliamentary speaker on Tuesday, dealing the government a major setback, opposition chief Raila Odinga has ignored pleas to call off the protests.


Previous protests, sparked by last month's election, quickly descended into tribal violence, mainly in ethnically tense western Kenya and Nairobi's slums, claiming at least 700 lives and displacing some 260,000 people in the east African nation.


Villagers have fled homes in western Kenya's lolling hills and agricultural ranges regarded as the country's breadbasket fearing a fresh eruption of violence.


Attempts to defuse the political tension and broker talks between Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki failed to make much progress last week, prompting the opposition to call three days of demonstrations beginning Wednesday despite the risk of more violence.


Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), who insist that Kibaki stole his way to re-election in the December 27 vote, has demanded he concede defeat to pave the way for talks.


While consolidating his hold on power, Kibaki has called for dialogue but ruled out foreign mediation, while his hardline henchmen have told the ODM to shut up or take their complaints to court.


Meanwhile, in a further blow to efforts to end the political deadlock, former UN chief Kofi Annan postponed a mission to mediate the crisis "for a few days" after having taken ill with severe flu, the United Nations said in Geneva on Tuesday.


The government has refused any foreign mediation saying there is no crisis, while the opposition insists it would consider talks if there was an international middleman.


Analysts have begun to warn that continued political stalemate and violence could turn the country of 37 million people, once regarded as a bastion of stability in a region gripped by conflicts, into a new Somalia.


"The ODM supporters will insist that they are still relevant and their course is just while the government will most certainly stop them. Results: running battles, deaths and even more deadlock," said political analyst Evans Manduku.


"We are dealing with two serious enemies of the people: police and angry demonstrators and as much as we may hate to say this, this could be the beginning of turmoil like Somalia if we do not address the root cause of this problem," he added.


Analyst Mwangi Iribe said chaotic parliament scenes prior to the election of speaker signalled a chaotic future.


"It was a very bad show for this parliament ... We almost started on a wrong footing," Iribe told K24 television.


Source: AFP, Jan 16, 2008