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World - Africa

Call for constitutional reform sparks riots in Kenya

police
Mounted policemen charge into a crowd of protesters in Nairobi on Thursday  
RELATED VIDEO
Violence erupts during a demonstration in Kenya. CNN's Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond reports on the conflict (June 11)
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June 11, 1999
Web posted at: 6:23 p.m. EDT (2223 GMT)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- A prayer meeting called to push for constitutional reform erupted into street riots in the Kenyan capital on Thursday, as police clashed with hundreds of protesters trying to march on parliament.

Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades, and security forces fought running battles with protesters for more than four hours.

The Red Cross said dozens of people suffered minor injuries, and several others were knocked unconscious or hurt by rubber bullets.

Earlier, about 1,500 people gathered in the Roman Catholic basilica in Nairobi for a prayer meeting to press President Daniel arap Moi to honor a deal under which church and civic groups would get a stake in a review of Kenya's constitution.

Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki urged the protesters to disperse after the prayer meeting, but a group of several hundred led by Presbyterian clergyman Timothy Njoya marched toward parliament, where the annual budget speech was being read.

Youths armed with slingshots and lumps of pavement battled security forces in the city center and chanted, "Moi must go," an opposition rallying cry.

Truckloads of police and two water cannons were quickly deployed on the main street.

Witnesses said at least five policemen attacked Njoya, beating him until he fell to the ground and begged for mercy. A lone officer then rained down blow after blow on Njoya's head with a club as he lay defenseless.

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Several people were rendered unconscious during Thursday's clashes  

Reform is hotly debated in Kenya, in part because of the perception that after governing since independence in 1963, the ruling party holds too much power.

More than a dozen people were killed in reform protests in 1997 in the run-up to elections that returned Moi, in power since 1978, for a final term.

Earlier this week, Moi issued a declaration discarding plans to consult the public on reform, saying parliament would do it instead.

But not all members of parliament agree with Moi's move.

"It is a process that has taken Kenyans 35 years. It is the people of Kenya that have fought that way, but it's important that the people decide the issue of the constitution, as opposed to 222 members of parliament," said parliamentarian Wanyiri Kihoro.

Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.


RELATED STORIES:
Kenya's president issues ultimatum to halt violence
August 23, 1997
Riot police disband rally for Kenyan constitutional reform
May 31, 1997


RELATED SITES:
CIA World Factbook: Kenya
Kenyaweb
Africa Online: Kenya
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