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Kenyan Government Accused of Splitting Opposition Party


Police in Kenya's capital have dispersed demonstrators protesting government support of a faction within the country's main opposition party, a move observers say effectively splits the opposition before next year's elections. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Until about two weeks ago, the Kenya Africa National Union was headed by Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the country's first president and leader of the official opposition.

But in a party meeting last month, delegates replaced Kenyatta and other top officials with Nicholas Biwott, a minister in the former government, and his faction.

Kenyatta and the other officials were to have met the registrar-general to persuade her not to recognize Biwott as party leader.

But the government canceled the meeting at the last minute and dispersed a crowd of supporters gathered at a Nairobi park.

A researcher with the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, Tiberius Barasa, tells VOA the Kenyatta-Biwott split has been long in the making.

Barasa says he believes the government played a major role in the split and the registrar-general broke the law by registering Biwott and his team far before the legal deadline.

He explains some of the advantages he thinks will go to the current government.

"Of course, to weaken the opposition and also to garner support for the next year's elections, and also to lobby for the passing of bills in parliament," he said. "You need a majority to pass bills in Parliament, and some of the bills that the government would want to pass would probably be rejected by the opposition."

"So they want to increase the number of supporters so that they can pass bills in Parliament and also in preparation for the next year's general elections," he added.

Barasa says he thinks Kenyatta was likely ousted from his position as party president because of his support for the Orange Democratic Movement, a collection of officials from various parties that came together more than a year ago and is critical of many government policies.

The government denies having a role in the KANU split.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told reporters late Monday that political party disputes should not be resolved in government offices.

In his words, internal problems should be sorted out in political party boardrooms and not in the streets or through intimidation.

Mutua blasted Kenyatta and the others for recent demonstrations, saying that taking over government offices and refusing to leave is tantamount to threatening officials and placing them under duress.

Kenya's parliament speaker has ruled that Kenyatta remains official opposition leader for the time being.

Biwott is a former minister with the previous government of Daniel arap Moi. He has been accused of involvement in a number of scandals, including land-grabbing and the murder of former foreign affairs minister Robert Ouko, allegations he has denied.