Nine men charged after protest clashes in Kenya

Reuters News
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Posted: May 24, 2016 9:01 AM

By George Obulutsa and Humphrey Malalo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Kenyan court charged nine men on Tuesday for their role in a protest against an electoral oversight body, a lawyer said, after the fourth flare-up on the streets in a month drew criticism from international donors.

In Monday's protest, a demonstrator in the western city of Kisumu died from an injury while running away, the police said. Newspapers had reported three dead, but a government spokesman denied the higher casualty figure. Police denied using live ammunition.

Dozens of people have been arrested in protests that began on April 25 and have been held on virtually even Monday since then.

"We are deeply concerned by the escalation of violence during the demonstrations in Kenyan cities," ambassadors from the United States, Britain and other Western nations said.

In a statement, they called for an investigation into the use of "excessive force" by the security services and urged protesters to act peacefully.

After last week's demonstration, a senior police officer said there would be an investigation to see if there had been any violations by police.

The demonstrators want the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to be scrapped, saying it is not impartial and cannot oversee fair presidential and parliamentary elections due in August 2017.

The IEBC, which oversaw a vote the opposition disputed in 2013, denies the charges. The government says the opposition is taking to street as it cannot win a vote.

The nine people charged on Tuesday were accused of unlawful assembly, court documents showed. "My clients pleaded not guilty and were released on cash bail pending hearing of the matter," Lawyer Harun Ndubi told Reuters.

Fifteen people faced similar charges last week.

The protests have extended beyond Nairobi to cities such as Kisumu, where there is strong support for opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is expected to run again against President Uhuru Kenyatta, now serving the first of a maximum two terms.

Police fired teargas and water cannon at demonstrators in Nairobi this week. A week earlier, officers had fought running battles in the street with protesters, beating some of them with batons and kicking them. Some demonstrators had thrown stones.

Western envoys have previously urged the government and citizens to prepare carefully for the elections in a nation where the 2007 vote was followed by ethnic blood-letting that killed 1,200 people, while the 2013 result was unsuccessfully challenged in court by the opposition.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Richard Balmforth)