Kenya bans opposition protests ahead of new election

Riot police fire teargas against opposition supporters during a demonstration against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. The protesters are demanding a change of leadership at the country's election commission. The protests took place in the capital Nairobi and the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, in western Kenya, as well as in the coastal city of Mombasa.(AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya's government on Thursday banned opposition protests in their strongholds in the country's three biggest cities because of "imminent danger of breach of peace" as the fresh presidential election approaches.

Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said demonstrations are banned in the central business districts of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa.

The right to protest is enshrined in Kenya's constitution, "but we shall not allow a few people while purportedly exercising their freedoms to infringe on the rights of others," Matiangi said.

The minister claimed demonstrators had looted and attacked police stations. But the opposition and human rights groups have accused the government of using police to clamp down on protests. The government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights has said police killed at least 37 people, including a six-month-old baby, during protests after the results of the August vote were announced.

"Our view is that the directive is unlawful," said opposition legislator Otiende Amollo, who said demonstrations will go forward anyway. The interior minister does not have the power to ban demonstrations because there is no law to regulate them, Amollo said.

The ban is "deeply disturbing," said Ndungu Wainaina, the executive director of the nonprofit International Center for Policy and Conflict.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga this week withdrew from the Oct. 26 vote after his legal challenge led the Supreme Court to nullify the August election in which President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner. Odinga has said that without reforms to Kenya's election commission the new vote could be run worse than the first one, and he has called on supporters to protest for changes.

The Supreme Court on Sept. 1 annulled Kenyatta's re-election, citing "irregularities and illegalities" in the vote-counting and the electoral commission's refusal to allow scrutiny of its computer system.

The commission late Wednesday said the new election will go ahead with all eight of the candidates who ran in August and that Odinga was still considered a candidate as he had not yet formally withdrawn. No candidate aside from Odinga and Kenyatta received even 1 percent of the vote.

Kenyatta's Jubilee Party has been pursuing changes to the electoral law that the opposition says will make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to nullify a presidential election and will reduce safeguards against electoral fraud. Parliament approved the amendments Wednesday, and Kenyatta is expected to sign them into law.

Odinga earlier this month said the government had withdrawn his police security, making it difficult to campaign or participate in demonstrations. Matiangi said they will not provide security to people who want to cause chaos.

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