NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan police used tear gas and batons on Tuesday to disperse protesters who say election officials should be sacked before the re-run of a presidential vote because they favour President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Several volleys of tear gas were fired near the election commission headquarters in central Nairobi, a Reuters witness said. When protestors regrouped, officers fired more tear gas and beat some with batons. By mid-afternoon calm had returned.
Raila Odinga, who lost his presidential bid on Aug. 8, will get another chance after the Supreme Court annulled the election citing irregularities and ordered a fresh vote within 60 days.
However, Odinga has accused the election commission, known as the IEBC, of being a puppet of Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee party and said he will not participate in the Oct. 26 re-run if election officials are not sacked and prosecuted.
The court did not find any individual responsible but said institutional failings had led to irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of election results.
The election commission has asked the opposition to call off protests until the IEBC has explained the various measures being taken to “enhance the credibility and integrity” of the vote.
“IEBC cannot begin the process of an honest election as long as those responsible for the irregularities and illegalities are still lurking in its corridors,” Odinga told reporters.
“IEBC has refused to dismiss or suspend them. That is why we are today beginning these peaceful campaigns to force them out by public pressure so the process of a fair election can at last begin,” he added.
Last week Kenya’s chief prosecutor ordered investigations into 11 election board officials including its chief executive, Ezra Chiloba, as well as a lawyer and campaigner who worked for Odinga.
Speaking as protestors gathered outside his office, Chiloba said he would not resign. “I have (a) responsibility before me and I have to discharge that responsibility,” he told Kenya’s KTN television network.
Some Kenyatta supporters also took to the streets in Nairobi but there were no clashes between the two sides.
In the port city of Mombasa, a crowd gathered at local election office, chanting: “No reforms no elections. Chiloba must go!”
The Kenyan government in a statement accused “mobs of hooligans” of taking advantage of the protests to destroy property and said “a number of criminals” had been arrested and would be taken to court.
Underscoring the rising tensions, a newly elected opposition lawmaker was charged with subversion at a court hearing in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Paul Ongili Owino was arrested after a video clip of him speaking while campaigning for Odinga emerged on social media in which he called Kenyatta a son of a dog.
The prosecution said those words were “calculated to excite disaffection against the presidency”.
Ahead of Tuesday’s demonstrations by the opposition National Super Alliance coalition, Kenyatta had said violence would not be tolerated.
“People are free to demonstrate but they must ensure that they do not destroy other people’s property,” he said.
“Let them not think that they will break into other people’s shops and interfere with the daily routine of other Kenyans. That, we shall not allow,” he said.
In the western city of Kisumu, an Odinga stronghold where some 3,000 protestors gathered, one protestor, vegetable market vendor Hellen Aketch said: “I will support anything that assures me of the validity and the safety of my vote in the upcoming elections.”
“I have closed (my) business today and I am ready to do it again so long as some sanity is realised among those who hold public office.”
Additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa, Kenya; Writing by David Lewis and George Obulutsa; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg