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Kenyan Opposition Begins 3 Days of Protests


Kenyan protesters clashed with police in cities across the country on the first of three days of national demonstrations aimed at forcing President Mwai Kibaki to recognize that Kenya's recent elections were flawed. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, at least two people were killed in the violence.

On the outskirts of Nairobi's Kibera slum, angry rioters threw stones at police and erected a roadblock with a massive metal drum, before fleeing as police advanced and fired tear gas into the crowd.

In the western city of Kisumu, police fired bullets to disperse a crowd of at least 1,000 demonstrators, killing two people. In the port city of Mombasa, police fired tear gas at rioters.

The protests, which took place in several Kenyan cities, were called by opposition leader Raila Odinga who charges last month's presidential elections were rigged and robbed him of victory.

But aside from skirmishes in the slums and in a couple of pockets downtown, Nairobi was relatively calm.

Opposition lawmaker Charity Ngilu was one of several opposition leaders who tried but were prevented by the police to march on Nairobi's Uhuru park downtown.

"We will continue with these peaceful demonstrations until Kibaki understands that Kenyans are very angry," said Charity Ngilu. "Today we are going on today and we will go on tomorrow and day after tomorrow. Even on the other side people have all been thrown out of town, police are using force, tear gas you can see what they are doing. This is very, very bad because we intended to have peaceful demonstrations."

International observers have found a number of flaws in the December 27 presidential elections and urged the two sides to reach a compromise. Mr. Kibaki has also come under international criticism for banning the opposition rallies.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told VOA the government acted legally in banning the protests. He accused Mr. Odinga's supporters of causing chaos.

After the center of Nairobi was blocked off, Kenyan police repeatedly teargassed a group of reporters from both the local and international media who had gathered across from the park where the demonstrations were planned. William Ruto, one of Mr. Odinga's key allies, vowed to keep up the protests despite the ban.

"We will not allow Mwai Kibaki and his group to make it a dictatorship," said William Ruto. "The people of Kenya want to express their right. They went to the ballot to exercise their freedom of choice and that constitutional right to vote the leaders they want was shortchanged by a clique of people who think they can run this country the way they want."

Neither side has shown much willingness to compromise, although Mr. Odinga said Wednesday he was ready for mediated talks with the government.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had planned to come to Kenya on Tuesday, but delayed his trip after he fell ill with flu.

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