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Kenyan Gov't in Uproar over US Terror Alert, Embassy Closure


Senior members of the Kenyan government have denounced a U.S. decision to keep the U.S. embassy in Nairobi closed because of fears of terrorism.

Several cabinet ministers have called for Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to lodge a formal complaint about what they call the unfair treatment of Kenya by the United States.

The minister for roads, public works, and housing, Raila Odinga, told Kenyan media Sunday that a new terror warning by the United States, which prompted Friday's order closing the U.S. embassy in Nairobi for at least three days, is further damaging Kenya's already-fragile economy and worsening the country's image.

Mr. Odinga termed the embassy closure an insult to all Kenyans, saying the United States has not provided his government with any proof that terrorists are active in the east African country.

Kenya's health minister, Charity Ngilu, has also expressed her dismay at the U.S. decision, saying it was unfortunate, unjustified and unbecoming of a friendly nation.

U.S. officials said last Thursday, American intelligence agencies uncovered fresh information about a possible al-Qaida terrorist plot on the three month-old embassy in Nairobi. The embassy was built to replace the one destroyed in a terrorist attack in 1998. That attack, which killed more than two hundred Kenyans, has been blamed on al-Qaida.

U.S. officials say the current al-Qaida threat in Kenya is specific and credible. They said the warning is not an extension of last month's terror alert, which prompted British and Israeli airlines to suspend flights to Kenya indefinitely. The United States and several European countries have urged their citizens not to travel to Kenya.

The recent terror alerts have devastated the Kenyan economy, which was showing signs of a recovery under the new government of Mwai Kibaki. The Kenyan leader was elected last December, vowing to end decades of corruption under the previous president, Daniel arap Moi.

But terrorism fears are threatening to undermine the recovery. Kenya's vital tourism sector is down by as much as 70 percent from last year's levels, and unemployment is creeping up as hotels and other travel-related businesses are forced to cut staffs.

A senior member of the Kenyan Parliament, Otieno Kajwang, said the Kenyan people are becoming angry at what they see as a U.S. attempt to single out Kenya as a terrorist haven. He said the United States should avoid issuing terror alerts in his country unless it can show the Kenyan people the extent of the terrorist threat.

"It [the terror alert] is bringing unnecessary panic worldwide and it is asking the world to believe that Kenya is a war zone, something which it has never been. I think this is insincere to our new government. We are trying to rebuild an economy which has collapsed. We are trying to put the little money we have in security. And other than being blamed, nobody is giving us any support. This is very unfair," Mr. Kajwang said.

The Kenyan government insists it is not dismissing U.S. security concerns. But cabinet ministers said, instead of issuing travel warnings and closing the embassy, the United States should assist Kenya more in apprehending the terrorists Washington says are actively operating here.

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