Kenya's parliament meets for first time since disputed election

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kenya's new Parliament convened for the first time since the country's disputed December 27 election, but politician's on opposing sides took part in a heated discussion over who would be the new speaker of the party.

Kenyan opposition politicians argued with followers of re-elected President Mwai Kibaki over how to pick a new parliamentary speaker.

When a discussion into how the speaker should be decided started, lawmakers with Raila Odinaga's opposition Orange Democratic Movement insisted the election for speaker be held by open ballot; Mr. Kibaki's supporters demanded the vote be secret.

The discussion took place for over an hour politicians from both sides took part in a discussion where anger was clearly shown, before the two parties decided a secret ballot was acceptable.

"The standing orders are very clear that members will be given a ballot. Can you show us where it says secret ballot? We went into election with secret ballot, you stole the vote, we cannot trust you anymore," said William Ruto, a senior adviser for Odigna.

After a first round of voting, the Orange Democratic Movement candidate had a narrow lead, necessitating another ballot. If no-one gets two-thirds majority after two rounds the speaker will be elected by a simple majority in the third round.

It was an argument like that seen in Parliament that has led many Kenyans to say they have felt abandoned by their leaders in the weeks of chaos that followed the December 27 vote.

Demonstrations

Kenya is preparing for Wednesday, when Mr. Odinga plans the first of three consecutive days of protest in cities around the country. The government has said it will not allow the demonstrations to go ahead.

Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan is to go to Nairobi in a few days to try to find a solution to the issue. Mr. Kibaki's government has said it sees no reason to negotiate, because it says the vote was fair. Annan was due to arrive today but delayed it as he is suffering from flu.

Background

At least 500 people have been killed and more than 250,000 displaced in clashes between protesters and police, as well as ethnic-related violence that has seen rioters torch homes and businesses across the nation.

Some say they are furious over the presidential vote, which international observers have said was flawed. Others appear to be taking advantage of lawlessness that followed the vote.

While the parliamentary debate went on, violence continued across the country. In Nairobi's giant Mathare slum, gangs torched a school and an orphanage. And to the northwest, in an area hit hard by violence, groups of young men allegedly from the Kalenjin tribe killed at least two people and set their homes ablaze.

"Gangs of Kalenjin warriors invaded the village and they burned down a couple of houses. When people went in to salvage some things, they met them and they killed two of them," said Karanja Njoroge, a retired professor in the village where the attacks occurred. He added that "several others were wounded with arrows in their bodies. And they removed the ones who were wounded and they ran away on the main highway toward the police station."



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