NAIROBI. — Kenyan authorities suspended television and radio stations yesterday as supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga watched him take a symbolic presidential oath in a Nairobi park in a direct challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Security forces made no move to stop the ceremony, which authorities had said would be illegal, but the government later declared the opposition “National Resistance Movement” a criminal group, paving the way for potential arrests.
The movement is a loose grouping led by Odinga and other lawmakers that tried to rally support in November for a boycott of some products whose owners it says are aligned with government interests. Odinga’s supporters say he is Kenya’s legitimate leader and Kenyatta’s election was neither free nor fair.
Kenyatta’s victory in August was annulled by the Supreme Court over irregularities, but he won a re-run, which Odinga boycotted because some electoral commission reforms he demanded did not take place. Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term in November and state institutions report to him.
“I, Raila Omolo Odinga, do swear that I will protect the nation as people’s president, so help me God,” Odinga, who held a bible, said to the cheers of more than 15 000 people in Uhuru Park, next to Nairobi’s main business district.
During a speech lasting less than five minutes, Odinga declined to give details of his plans and said they would be disclosed in “due course”. In a possible sign of division within the opposition alliance, Odinga’s vice presidential candidate and two other senior leaders were absent.
Odinga said the vice president would be sworn in at a later date. The attorney-general had warned that Odinga could be charged with treason if the event went ahead — an offence that can carry the death penalty.
As people assembled, authorities forced independent television and radio stations reporting on the gathering off air, several outlets said — the most widespread censorship for a decade.
Odinga, a veteran opposition leader, has refused to accept Kenyatta’s re-election, which came after a deeply divisive 2017 polls season in which rights activists say at least 92 people were killed.
First was an election on August 8, won by Kenyatta and then annulled in a historic decision by the Supreme Court, which ordered a re-run on October 26. Claiming the poll would not be fair, Odinga boycotted the second vote and Kenyatta won with 98 percent.
Observers had said that the swearing-in would only further divide the nation and the crackdown on press freedom is likely to add to concerns about the state of Kenyan democracy. — AFP/Reuters.
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