Kenyan police fire water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters demanding new constitution

Saturday, July 3rd 2004, 9:44 am
By: News On 6

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Riot police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters angry at the government's failure this week to introduce a new Kenyan constitution reducing the president's powers. At least 16 people were hurt, an official said.

Hundreds of demonstrators, waving white flags as they marched to a park for the rally, were chased by club-wielding police on horseback, on foot and in trucks with water cannons.

The rally, which had been banned by authorities, was supported by the main opposition party and a faction of the governing coalition to press the government to enact a new constitution after it missed its own deadline to do so.

Protesters burned roadside palm trees, demolished kiosks and vandalized police booths and shops. Businesses closed and people rushed away from the central business district. A police helicopter hovered over the riot.

``Kenyans do not fall asleep, the struggle is still on,'' the protesters chanted. They also shouted to police: ``You use our (taxpayer) money to beat us. What sin have we committed?''

Farid Abdulkadir, a Red Cross official, said initial reports indicated at least 16 people were injured.

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi warned American citizens Saturday to avoid the city's downtown area because of the protests.

On New Year's Eve, President Mwai Kibaki promised Kenyans a new constitution by June 30.

But in an unscheduled TV address broadcast Monday, he said the new charter may be delayed until next year because of court challenges and disagreements in his governing coalition.

A 629-member National Constitutional Conference approved a draft constitution in March that would reduce the president's powers and hand much of the executive's authority to a proposed prime minister.

But two separate court rulings stalled the constitutional reform after judges said that the conference was not representative of Kenya's 30 million people.

Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition also has bickered over the draft. Kibaki on Wednesday demoted three Cabinet ministers who had publicly insisted that he enact a new constitution by the end of June as promised.

If enacted, the draft charter will replace a constitution that went into effect at independence from Britain in 1963. Since then the constitution has been amended several times to give the president immense powers.