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Kenya Holds Emergency Meeting on Blasts

Monday, 14 Jun 2010 06:45 AM

NAIROBI — Kenya's leaders went into emergency talks Monday after blasts killed five people during a rally on an upcoming referendum and conjured up the spectre of the country's recent post-election chaos.

Two blasts ripped through a gathering of supporters of the "No" campaign ahead of an August 4 referendum on a new constitution, causing a massive stampede in Nairobi's main Uhuru park.

"We want to get to the bottom of this matter..., we are appealing for calm from all Kenyans as police investigate the matter," Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka told reporters.

He announced that President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the country's security chiefs were to hold emergency talks following the blasts, which also left 80 people wounded.

Odinga described the blasts as an "isolated incident" that should not be linked to the referendum but Kenya's fractious political class was already speculating as to who might be behind the attacks.

The rally in central Nairobi was addressed by political and religious leaders opposed to the new constitution, notably to a clause they allege would legalise abortion.

"This is a sign some people want to force the constitution on Kenyans," said Higher Education Minister William Ruto when he visited the site of the explosions.

Ruto is one of the leaders of the "No" campaign as well as one of the main figures in the running for the 2012 presidential election.

A new constitution limiting the powers of the president and enshrining a raft of reforms was one of the main pledges made by Kibaki and Odinga when they buried the post-election war hatchet and agreed to power-sharing two years ago.

But although Kenya's once feuding principals openly support the new constitution, their respective parties appear divided, with some politicians concerned over land issues and the clause on abortion.

Analyst Hassan Omar Hassan said he was confident however that the attacks would not scupper the constitutional referendum, which is one of the very steps seen as key to ensuring that a repeat of the post-election violence is avoided.

"It looks like a diversionary action but I am quite confident that at the end of the day it will not work," said Hassan, from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

"There are people who want to derail the referendum campaign, much to the extent that some people played on ethnic animosities in 2007/2008, but I am still confident it will be a peaceful campaign and that the yes will prevail."

The international community, which brokered Kenya's power-sharing deal, has been critical of the pace of reform over the past two years.

Some of Kenya's top ministers and presidential hopefuls also face the threat of a warrant by the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is currently investigating the post-poll violence.

But during a visit to Kenya last week, US Vice President Joe Biden had given the government a thumbs-up for its most recent efforts in preparing the referendum and promised the country significant economic rewards.

"Putting in place a new constitution and strengthening your democratic institutions and rule of law will further open the door to major US development programmes and investment from US corporations," he said.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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NAIROBI — Kenya's leaders went into emergency talks Monday after blasts killed five people during a rally on an upcoming referendum and conjured up the spectre of the country's recent post-election chaos.
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2010-45-14
Monday, 14 Jun 2010 06:45 AM
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