Kenya high court suspends ban on opposition protests

An opposition supporter protesting over the upcoming elections in Kenya chants and holds a placard showing opposition leader Raila Odinga in downtown Nairobi. (Ben Curtis, AP)
An opposition supporter protesting over the upcoming elections in Kenya chants and holds a placard showing opposition leader Raila Odinga in downtown Nairobi. (Ben Curtis, AP)

Nairobi - Kenya's high court on Tuesday temporarily lifted a government curb on protests in three main cities, until a full hearing can be held on an opposition petition to scrap the ban entirely.

Security Minister Fred Matiangi announced the ban last Thursday but opposition supporters have defied the order, notably in the western stronghold of Kisumu where three people have been shot dead by police.

The high court ordered the ban suspended "pending the hearing and determination" of a petition by the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition arguing it contravened their constitutional right to protest.

Matiangi accused opposition supporters, who had been waging a protest campaign to demand election reforms ahead of an October 26 vote, of lawlessness and destroying property.

He also threatened to prosecute NASA chief executive Norman Magaya for any damage.

The high court also ruled that until the petition is heard, any orders to arrest Magaya should be stayed.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga launched a protest campaign three weeks ago against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

He said the panel had failed to properly reform since the Supreme Court annulled an August 8 presidential election over irregularities in the counting process.

The protests, concentrated in Kisumu but with smaller crowds seen in Nairobi and coastal Mombasa, have seen opposition supporters setting tyres alight, lobbing stones at police and in some cases looting stores and destroying property.

Odinga last week announced he was withdrawing from the race, arguing this legally forces the IEBC to begin the whole process from scratch, which would allow more time for deep reforms.

He then called for protests to take place daily to maintain pressure on authorities.

A day after the ban, on Friday, two protesters were shot dead by police in Odinga's rural home of Bondo, in the west of the country.

On Monday an 18-year-old, whose mother insisted was not taking part in the protests, was shot dead in Kisumu.

The deaths led the opposition to suspend planned protests on Tuesday, to allow NASA to "attend to the supporters who were brutalised and hurt and families that lost loved ones."

Despite the confusion over what Odinga's withdrawal means, election officials appear to be pushing forward with plans to hold the vote in nine days.

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