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Kenyan Reform Protest Crushed

Hundreds rallied in the capital for a new constitution curbing presidential power.

July 04, 2004|From Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya — Riot police armed with tear gas, clubs and water cannons fought Saturday in Nairobi with hundreds of people defying a ban on a rally for constitutional reform.

Critics accuse President Mwai Kibaki of deliberately blocking a new constitution that would create a prime minister's position, considerably trimming his vast presidential power, even though he had promised reform in his campaign to unseat veteran President Daniel Arap Moi in 2002.

Paramilitary and riot police, some on horseback, forced back demonstrators from the edge of Uhuru Park, close to the central business district.

Water cannon trucks roamed nearby streets, repeatedly dousing the dispersed protesters as they tried to regroup.

The Kenya Red Cross said it treated at least 20 injuries.

"Most of the wounds were caused by stones or clubbing," Red Cross official Farid Abdulkadir said.

There were no immediate details of any arrests.

The government, saying it feared violence, had banned both the rally called by lobbying group Katiba Watch and the Liberal Democratic Party, a member of the ruling coalition, and a rival demonstration called by Kibaki supporters.

The LDP and Katiba Watch called off the rally Saturday afternoon, but street protests had already begun.

Earlier, dozens of students threw stones at passing vehicles and police, who charged them and fired tear gas canisters.

About 100 youths chanting "Kibaki has let us down" set fire to a tree along the city's main highway. Most shops were shut.

Kibaki had promised to have the constitution in place by Wednesday.

Organizers said at a news conference that they planned more rallies countrywide to press for the new constitution, starting on July 24 in the coastal city of Mombasa.

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