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Police used tear gas on opposition protesters in Kenya’s three largest cities Friday as the demonstrations defied a government ban and pressed for electoral reforms ahead of fresh presidential elections.

In the capital of Nairobi, police fired tear gas as opposition supporters tried to march to the central business district. In Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city, local television showed running battles with stone-throwing youth.

Police also used tear gas in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city, said opposition legislator Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir.

The government on Thursday banned opposition protests in the three cities’ central business districts because of “imminent danger of breach of peace,” Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said, claiming that opposition supporters had looted businesses and attacked police stations.


A convoy of opposition politicians of the NASA coalition evacuate after policemen fired tear gas on Friday. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Human rights groups protested the ban, with some pointing out that police have killed at least 37 people in protests since the results of the August election were announced. The Supreme Court annulled that vote, citing irregularities, and called for a new one. It is set for Oct. 26.

“This ban, announced just two weeks ahead of a fraught repeat presidential election, is likely to become a basis for heavy-handed police crackdowns,” said Michelle Kagari, a deputy regional director with Amnesty International.

Norman Magaya, Opposition coalition chief executive officer, said police have allowed government supporters into the banned protest areas and that they were attacking opposition supporters.

Opposition leaders have called for daily demonstrations ahead of the fresh elections. Opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose legal challenge led the court to nullify President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election, this week said he has withdrawn from the race because no reforms to electoral commission have been made.


Kenya’s opposition party leader, Raila Odinga prepares for an interview with journalists in London. Odinga protested the August election, and his participation in the redo is in doubt. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

The commission has said the new election will go ahead with all eight candidates who ran in August, and that Odinga is still considered a candidate as he has not formally withdrawn. No candidate aside from Odinga and Kenyatta received even a single per cent of the vote.

Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has been pursuing changes to the electoral law that the opposition says will make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to nullify a presidential election and will reduce safeguards against electoral fraud. Parliament approved the amendments, and on Friday the president’s communication office said he had received them and had 14 days to sign them into law.

Opposition legislator James Orengo said Friday the law will lower safeguards against vote rigging by making the preferred system of transmitting election results a manual one. Kenya adopted an electronic system following the flawed 2007 election, which sparked ethnic violence that left more than 1,000 people dead.