Let the demonstration go ahead

Sorry for not blogging, extenuating circumstances.

For the time being I have been surprised at the strength of the US response to Kibaki and Odinga’s political stalemate. The US does not approve of the government’s clampdown on the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate. It might be naive but I wonder why the government does not lift it’s ban on public demonstrations and live media broadcasts.

Clamping down so aggressively by using state violence has inevitably led to the uprisings we have witnessed. When people have tried to demonstrate they have signaled their intentions to demonstrate peacefully by waving branches of trees or waving white clothes, stripping down to their bras (in the case of women) and lying down on the streets of Nairobi. I also heard of riots on the streets abating so that a heavily pregnant woman who had been on her way to clinic could give birth on the street amid the tumult, once the baby was born the crowd cheered before getting back to challenging the GSU.

These challenges, despite the peaceful intentions of the majority have been met with tear gas attacks, water cannon and live rounds being shot in the air.

Some protestors have reported that they have seen individuals being shot dead. I have seen videos of Nairobi residents appealing to GSU to let them demonstrate – this is a new development. I remember the 1982 coup attempt and how terrifying the GSU were. To be able to approach them and engage in dialogue is startling.

For the police to claim that they are banning all demonstrations because of criminal elements is an excuse. If the state is frightened that the protests will spill over into violent protests leading to looting of the city, let them block all routes into the city. But let them also allow demonstrators to assemble in Uhuru park and let off steam.

US warns Kenya

By Michela Wrong in Nairobi

Published: January 13 2008 17:05 | Last updated: January 13 2008 17:05

As police put the death toll in post-election unrest in Kenya at more than 700, the United States, the country’s biggest aid donor, has warned both the government and opposition that it cannot conduct “business as usual” in the East African nation.

“As a major player, we need to voice our concern in the most forceful manner possible,” said a US official, after Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, issued a statement expressing her deep disappointment at the failure of President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to hold head-to-head talks. “We cannot just ignore it.”

The US government is considering pruning parts of its $1bn annual lending programme – those outside the health sector — and issuing travel bans against perceived hardliners in the government and opposition. European Union ambassadors are also trying to hammer out a common position in the wake of a December 27 poll marred by vote-counting irregularities.

The main Kenyan opposition movement, which believes Mr Odinga was robbed of rightful victory, has appealed to the international community to cut aid to Mr Kibaki’s administration, while human rights activists want western countries to revoke the visas of the children and spouses of government and opposition hardliners, many of whom are studying abroad, to prevent them escaping the crisis.

The State Department warning came as a Kenyan police commander reported that the countrywide death toll now stood at over 700 dead, with 89 fresh bodies recovered in the Rift Valley and Kenya’s western province.

Kenya is braced for three days of opposition-orchestrated street protests from Wednesday, scheduled to take place in 28 separate locations. The US-based rights group Human Rights Watch said it was concerned that police were using live ammunition to disperse those taking part in the protests, banned by the authorities.

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