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US Expresses Grave Concerns About Kenyan's 'Self-Inauguration'

A studio on the newsroom floor of the NTV channel is seen, which was shut down by the Kenyan government because of its coverage of opposition leader Raila Odinga's symbolic presidential inauguration this week, at the Nation group media building in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 1, 2018.

The United States expressed grave concerns Thursday about Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga's "self-inauguration" and rejected actions that undermine Kenya's Constitution and the rule of law, while urging the government to respect freedom of expression and implement court orders calling for restoration of television broadcasts.

Odinga took the oath of "president" in a mock inauguration on January 30, a symbolic move in defiance of last year's controversial election and of authorities.

The government responded to Tuesday's mock inauguration by declaring the opposition movement a criminal organization and ordering the TV stations to stop broadcasting.

In a statement, the State Department recognized Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya's president-elect, while expressing deep concern about action by Kenyatta's government "to shut down, intimidate and restrict the media."

"Uhuru Kenyatta was elected as president of the Republic of Kenya on October 26, 2017, in a poll that was upheld by Kenya's Supreme Court," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

"Grievances must be resolved through appropriate legal mechanisms," she added.

In Nairobi, a Kenyan judge on Thursday ordered the government to allow the country's three largest television stations back on the air after they tried to broadcast images of the mock inauguration of Odinga.

"Freedom of expression, including for members of the media, is essential to democracy and is enshrined in Kenya's Constitution," Nauert said.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance speaks during a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 1, 2018.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance speaks during a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 1, 2018.

Kenyatta victory protested

The mock ceremony was attended by tens of thousands of Odinga supporters in Nairobi to protest Kenyatta's election victory last year, an election Odinga contends was rigged.

Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said Wednesday that the TV stations and some radio stations would remain shut down while the government investigated their role in what he said was an attempt to "subvert and overthrow" Kenyatta's government.

On Thursday, however, High Court Judge Chacha Mwita ordered the government to restore the operations of Citizen Television, the Kenya Television Network and Nation Television News. He also ordered the government not to interfere with the stations until a case disputing their shutdown had been heard.

Odinga told reporters that democracy in Kenya was "under serious attack" and called the country's ruling party "certainly mad."

Kenya's Supreme Court invalidated Kenyatta's August victory when Odinga said the vote counts had been changed in Kenyatta's favor after the electoral commission's computer system was hacked. The court ordered a new election in October that Kenyatta won.