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Outcry Raised Over Demolition of Homes in Kenya


In Kenya, a government demolition campaign in the coastal city of Mombasa has left many people homeless. Human rights groups say the demolitions are part of a government effort to displace opposition voters ahead of this year's elections.

More than 5,000 people were made homeless earlier this week following the demolition of their homes in one of Mombasa's slums.

Critics charge that the people living in the Tudor and Kaa Chonjo slums were not given any advance warning by the government that their homes were going to be destroyed. Khelef Khalifa, a member of a group called Muslims for Human Rights, has said many of the people not only are homeless, they are also without any of their belongings.

"They have lost almost everything because many of them were caught unaware. Some parents were not even in the shanties with young kids in the house, and the kids were just thrown out on the road," Mr. Khalifa said.

The government, however, said the residents were warned that their homes were going to be torn down.

An estimated 5,000 people are now homeless. Mr. Khalifa has said many of them are sleeping in the city's churches or mosques or simply out on the streets in the rain.

The demolitions were carried out on orders from a local member of parliament, Shariff Nassir, who is also a cabinet minister. Last week, he said he wanted the houses in Tudor and Kaa Chonjo to be cleared away as part of his campaign to clean up the city.

The campaign began in December, starting with roadside kiosks. Religious and community leaders have condemned the operation, but Mr. Nassir insists Mombasa must be rid of illegal structures, which he says are being used by thugs for drug peddling.

However, Mr. Khalifa of Muslims for Human Rights believes the cabinet minister's motives go beyond crime fighting. He says the slum dwellers are known to be opposed to the government, and therefore it wants to remove them from the city ahead of presidential elections, due before the end of the year.

"What we see here is politics because most of these dwellers in the slums are from upcountry and there is a lot of resentment especially from the ruling party. What is conceived is that the majority of these people are from the opposition - that's why they are being targeted," Mr. Khalifa said.

In the lead-up to Kenya's last two general elections, in 1992 and 1997, close to 100 people in the Mombasa area were killed in clashes between local and upcountry people.

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