Riot breaks out at demonstration called by Kenyan opposition leader

NAIROBI, Kenya - Wielding clubs, stones and bottles, ruling party activists disrupted an opposition rally Saturday and blocked the entrance to parliament to keep government critics from discussing constitutional reform in Kenya. Seven people were seriously injured, police said.

Members of the youth wings of the ruling KANU party and the allied National Development Party stormed the stage where James Orengo, a member of parliament from the opposition FORD-Kenya party, was to address a demonstration Saturday morning to demand that a promised constitutional review process be restarted.

The KANU/NDP militants tore down a tent set up over a platform at Kamukunji square, prompting members of FORD-Kenya's youth wing to fight back, throwing stones and bottles. Riot police, wearing helmets and carrying shields, threw tear gas grenades to break up the fighting, which then moved into the slums surrounding the square.

At one point, the fighting involved more than 1,000 people. Similar fighting has broken out almost every time the opposition tries to stage a rally in Kenya.

''I believe Kenyans will one day be liberated from this diabolical regime,'' said Mwangi Wa Kibe, a FORD-Kenya activist as he watched the second round of fighting. ''This act of stopping this meeting is cowardice and barbaric. ... We are not free, we don't have security in this country.''

President Daniel arap Moi promised the constitutional review under pressure from political opponents in 1997. Kenya's 1963 constitution, which has entrenched the ruling Kenya National African Union party, contains many provisions used by Kenya's British colonial government to stifle dissent.

But the review process stalled in February 1999 after political parties and interest groups disagreed over who would be represented on a 25-member commission that was supposed to oversee the review.

Whether by design or oversight, the law that established the commission failed to stipulate how political parties and other interested groups were to share the seats.

Orengo had also planned to discuss a drought that has created water and electricity shortages throughout the country, as well as government corruption.

After the initial clashes, police commander Nanwel Mwacheche declared the rally a security threat and ordered the FORD-Kenya youth to disperse. When they refused, police fired tear gas again, prompting new fighting. Police said seven people were seriously injured in the running battle.

One group of KANU/NDP militants, swinging whips over their heads and carrying large rocks, then went to the parliament building, where they waited for Orengo and other opposition leaders to try to go to Kamukunji square.

''We, the youths of Nairobi, have said today that Orengo should stop abusing (Moi). He should concentrate on his politics,'' said an NDP activist outside the parliament building, who would not give his name.

Police stood by while the KANU/NDP activists threw stones at opposition leaders' cars and searched vehicles leaving the compound.

''This is official state thuggery,'' said Muthusi Kitonga, an opposition member of parliament accompanying Orengo. ''These people here were hired by the government to come here and block us from meeting the people.''


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