NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 9 – One person was shot and scores others injured after police violently dispersed Muslim demonstrators who were marching to the Israeli Embassy on Friday to protest against missile strikes in Gaza.
Close to a thousand Muslim demonstrators took part in the march that kicked off after the Friday prayers at the Jamia Mosque in the capital, Nairobi.
They chanted and waved placards as they marched through the city streets before they engaged the police in a violent confrontation near the NSSF building.
“We are peaceful Kenyans and we have followed the due process of the law in organising this demonstration. Let us go to the Embassy. We do not want trouble with you (police),” Al Amin Kimathi of the Muslim Human Rights Forum pleaded.
“This is our right. The Israeli government is killing innocent people in Gaza. We cannot sit and watch that happen,” Abdi Mohammed, 34, who participated in the demonstration said.
Kilimani divisional Police chief Francio Nyamatari, who led dozens of anti-riot police in dispersing the angry Muslims tried in vain to engage them in negotiations before he ordered his officers to use force.
“We are being overpowered, get them out of here,” he instructed his officers who immediately fired shots in the air, lobbed tear gas and used water cannons.
Many of the demonstrators and several officers were injured as they battled it out near the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) headquarters.
Within five minutes, placards and leaflets condemning the Israeli government were strewn all over the road.
‘Stop shedding innocent blood’, ‘Save women and Children’, ‘Stop the genocide now’, ‘Allah save the women and children of Palestine’, read some of the placards.
At one point, the police were overpowered and had take cover at a petrol station and the Panafric hotel before they regrouped.
Some of the Muslim youth pelted the officers with stones and shouted at them as they moved closer, leading to more violent scenes.
“Officers should not be threatened. All these people should be dispersed because they keep regrouping,” Deputy Nairobi Provincial Police chief Julius Ndegwa ordered senior officers present.
National Muslim Leaders Forum (NAMLEF) chairman Abdullahi Abdi later led the group to the Treasury Building, where they handed a petition at Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s office.
“Today is one of the saddest days in the Muslim calendar. They (police) have provoked us, they have fired at us and lobbed tear gas at harmless men, women and children,” he said outside Treasury building, urging the government to cut diplomatic ties with Israel.
“We demand that the Israeli embassy in Nairobi be closed down and our envoy in Israel recalled,” he said. He told reporters he had received reports that one of the protestors had been shot.
“We are getting reports that one of our people has been shot but we don’t have more details about it,” he added and vowed to organise another demonstration soon.
“Don’t be surprised if we go to the streets on Monday, Wednesday or even Friday next week,” he said as he pleaded with the demonstrators to disperse.
Mr Odinga’s Spokesman Dennis Onyango received the petition and assured the group that it would reach the Prime Minister.
“I am in receipt of the petition and will ensure it gets to my boss. He could have been here himself, it is only that he is engaged elsewhere,” he said.
Muslim leaders condemned the police action and accused them of using excessive force to disperse ‘peaceful demonstrators’ who were out to condemn the atrocities in Gaza.
“We were peaceful, our people were provoked and dispersed with teargas and yet they were not rowdy,” Al Amin Kimathi said.