MOMBASA Kenya (Reuters) - Police fired teargas and rubber bullets on Thursday in Kenya’s main port city of Mombasa to disperse a demonstration about poor security called after gunmen killed about 65 people in attacks on the coast this week.
Activists said eight people were detained from the 200 or so people who joined the protest called by rights groups after gunmen raided the town of Mpeketoni, north of Mombasa port, on Sunday night and a nearby village 24 hours later.
Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group, blamed for other deadly assaults in Kenya, claimed responsibility but President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed that claim and accused domestic political rivals of involvement.
Kenyatta’s remarks have stoked political tensions and could re-open divisions in a nation where political allegiances tend to run along ethnic lines. Government opponents have denied any role in the Mpeketoni assaults.
“We were demonstrating peacefully and telling government to stop these senseless killings (on the) coast, but police suddenly appeared and attacked us with teargas and rubber bullets,” Phyllis Mwema, executive director of KECOSCE, a body that works to shield young people from radical ideas, said.
Mwema said police had been properly notified of the protest, which had been arranged to take place before the Mpeketoni attacks. Police said they were informed but had not given approval for fear it could be targeted by “criminals”.
Public criticism of the government about its failure to do more to secure the east African nation has gathered pace following a spate of gun and bomb attacks in recent months that have mainly targeted the Mombasa area and the capital Nairobi.
Critics accuse the government of not doing enough to ensure security since militants from Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group stormed a Nairobi shopping mall in September, leaving 67 dead. This week’s coastal attacks were the worst since then.
The government says it is being blamed for attacks that slip through rather than credited for halting numerous other plots.
Thursday’s protest was called by 27 rights groups to demand a meeting with local government officials over insecurity in the coastal region and beyond. Police intervened before the protesters reached regional administrative offices.
“We are trying to ensure that we don’t create situations that give evil minded people an easy opportunity to execute crime,” Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa said, explaining the decision not to approve the protest.
Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Ralph Boulton