Two protesters were shot dead Friday as opposition supporters clashed with police in western Kenya, with hundreds defying a ban on rallies to express their anger over an increasingly uncertain presidential election.
In the town of Bondo, the rural home of opposition leader Raila Odinga, a large crowd confronted officers outside the police station, scattering as live shots were fired.
Witnesses told AFP two people were shot dead. “One person had his head shattered by a bullet while the other was hit on the chest,” said eyewitness Sam Oguma.
Police commander Leonard Katana said the demonstrators were shot after attempting to “attack” the police station.
Regional security official Wilson Njega confirmed the two deaths, saying a full report would be issued once the circumstances of the killings became clear.
In the main western city Kisumu, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Bondo, 20 people were admitted to hospital with serious injuries, four of them with gunshot wounds including one man in a critical condition who had been shot in the neck, said hospital chief Juliana Otieno.
Several nursery school children were also hospitalised after police fired tear gas into the Mt Carmel Academy in the Nyalenda slum.
“There was tear gas all over the school and more kept being fired by the police,” said Mary Ochieng, a witness.
The protests come as Kenya is mired in confusion over a presidential election that is due to take place in less than two weeks.
Friday’s violence was the worst since clashes in the days after the August election which left 37 dead.
A local human rights group said 35 of them were shot dead by police.
- A new election? –
In early September, the country’s Supreme Court annulled the results of an August 8 election — won by President Uhuru Kenyatta — citing irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
And it ordered that a re-run of the vote be held within 60 days, with the date set for October 26.
But Odinga on Tuesday announced he would not take part, accusing the IEBC of failing to make fundamental reforms.
Odinga has argued that his withdrawal from the race should force the IEBC to cancel the election and begin the whole process from scratch — allowing more time for his reforms.
But the IEBC appears to be pushing forward with plans for the vote, saying only that Odinga had yet to submit the required form to officially pull out of the race.
Kenyatta on Friday signed a supplementary budget allocating 12 billion shillings ($116 million, 98 million euros) for the new election.
- Chaos in Kisumu –
The government ban on protests has further angered the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition.
Security Minister Fred Matiangi on Thursday banned rallies in the centre of Nairobi, Mombasa and the western city of Kisumu after property was destroyed, passers-by robbed or assaulted, and business disrupted.
However, the opposition pushed ahead with protests Friday, and plans to stage daily rallies next week.
In Kisumu, the main city in the west and Odinga’s stronghold, there were chaotic scenes as police fired teargas and gunshots rang out as protesters pelted them with stones.
Burning tyres blocked main roads in the city, bringing business to a standstill.
In Nairobi, opposition leaders tried to stage a march but when police fired teargas, the protesters dispersed. A second attempt elsewhere in the city also ended in a cloud of teargas.
“We are not intimidated,” insisted James Orengo, a vocal NASA official.
The protests have raised fears of drawn out instability as Kenya faces its worst political crisis since a disputed 2007 election led to months of politically-motivated tribal violence that left more than 1,100 dead.