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Oct 19, 10:18 AM EDT

Kenya police disperse demonstrators despite court order


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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenyan police fired rifles and tear gas Thursday to disperse demonstrators preparing to protest police killings of opposition supporters ahead of a fresh presidential election, a witness said.

An AP photographer saw police scatter the protesters gathering in Nairobi's Freedom Park. The police action was despite a court ruling Tuesday that removed the government's ban on demonstrations.

Demonstration organizer Boniface Mwangi said a policeman pushed him back and shot him with a tear gas canister which wounded his chest.

"Kenya is slowly sliding to dictatorship. The right to protest is a fundamental right that cannot be withdrawn. And it shows we do not have a police service. We have a police force that is not answerable to the people but the president. The government is quelling dissent and trying to show everything is O.K., but it isn't," he said.

Human rights groups accuse President Uhuru Kenyatta of using the police to crush dissent. Rights groups report that police killed 67 people in opposition protests in the days after the August 11 announcement of election results showing that Kenyatta won re-election. Kenyatta's victory with 54 percent of the vote was nullified by the Supreme Court in September and a fresh election is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Citing the police killings, opposition leader Raila Odinga called off daily demonstrations. Odinga withdrew his candidacy in the fresh election because he said the electoral commission has not been reformed even though the Supreme Court nullified the results of the first election citing irregularities and illegalities.

Two senior officials of Kenya's electoral commission cast doubt on the whether a free and fair election can be held at the end of the month, saying the country is divided, the electoral commission is split, and the major opposition candidate refuses to stand in the poll.

Electoral commissioner Roselyn Akombe resigned, saying the commission cannot deliver a credible election. She fled to the U.S., saying she feared for her safety.

It is "difficult to guarantee a free, fair and credible election" in Kenya's fresh presidential vote just days away despite "full technical preparedness," Wafula Chebukati, the head of the election commission said Wednesday.

However President Uhuru Kenyatta Thursday insists that the election must be held as scheduled.

Chebukati called for a dialogue between Kenyatta, Odinga and the electoral commission to avoid a crisis where as much as half the country's voters may boycott the election which would deny legitimacy to the person elected as president. Odinga met with Chebukati but Kenyatta continued with his campaign rallies and said elections must go on. Chebukati said he hopes to meet Kenyatta on Monday and then hold a meeting with the two candidates later.

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