Fresh Violence Erupts in Kenya as Annan Mediates
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Now to Kenya where former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan is trying to mediate an end to the crisis sparked by last month's disputed presidential election. He got off to a good start, persuading the opposition party to call off street protests planned for tomorrow. But as he began talks with Kenya's political rivals, fresh violence erupted.
In Nairobi, police fired tear gas at youth throwing stones. But some gas canisters landed in the middle of an opposition funeral ceremony.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton was there.
(Soundbite of crying)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Women wore strips of red and black cloth to show they were bereaved. And they wailed at Nairobi City mortuary as the caskets of their loved ones and friends were hoisted on to trucks to be driven to the venue of the funeral prayer service. The ceremony was organized by the main opposition party headed by Raila Odinga. He claims he was robbed of victory by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and is challenging the December 27 vote tally.
Kibaki maintains that he won. And the government has accused Odinga and the opposition of inciting violence and ethnic divisions.
(Soundbite of cheers)
QUIST-ARCTON: Waving branches, leaves and banners, opposition supporters held a peaceful but noisy procession along the main road leading to the park. That's where the coffins were laid out with the name of each person written in bold letters. The dead were mainly from one of Nairobi's notorious trouble spots, the sprawling Kibera slum.
(Soundbite of music)
QUIST-ARCTON: The opposition says they were all shot dead by riot police. Opposition leaders joined hundreds of mourners for the memorial service in the park. After prayers and hymns, the leaders spoke, including Raila Odinga.
(Soundbite of political speech)
Mr. RAILA ODINGA (Kenyan Politician; Opposition Leader): I've been warned that brothers and sisters who have died here, we want to say that their lives were not lost instead(ph) in vain; that their blood is going to be the water which is going to - going to water the tree of independence on field with the people of this country.
QUIST-ARCTON: But just as Raila Odinga was about to end his speech…
(Soundbite of shots fired)
QUIST-ARCTON: …police fired teargas canisters from outside the grounds, sending a haze of white smoke into the park, causing pandemonium. (Unintelligible) had earlier confronted the riot police. Politicians and mourners were caught up in the fracas. Such incidents are raising tensions in Kenya, and the opposition leaders, including Odinga, were driven away at speed.
(Soundbite of speeding vehicle)
QUIST-ARCTON: A group of angry young men took out their frustrations on a nearby post office, setting fire to and vandalizing the building and torching two cars.
(Soundbite of opposition supporters shouting in foreign language)
QUIST-ARCTON: That's the opposition supporters' mantra, no Raila, no peace, and many mean it. It's this explosion of anger and unrest that the former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is trying to calm, but positions are polarized.
The opposition is determined to fight on, while the government is refusing to back down. Annan is the latest international peace worker to try to resolve the political standoff. Post-election violence has killed hundreds of people, leaving a quarter of a million more displaced. The turmoil has shaken Kenya's image as a staple nation in a volatile East African region.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.