MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed by separatists to suspend national elections in the country’s coastal region and instead hold a referendum on independence.
Hundreds of supporters of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) left the High Court building in Kenya’s biggest port in disappointment after the ruling, escorted by riot police.
The MRC has threatened to disrupt voting in national elections next March if their demand for secession of the Indian Ocean coastal strip, which includes Kenya’s popular tourist beaches, is not met by authorities in Nairobi.
President Mwai Kibaki rejects the demand and says the MRC is outlawed. But the group still operates fairly freely.
Police said last week they seized weapons including bows and arrows and machetes in a raid on a training camp used by the MRC, which denied any link to the camp or the weapons.
High Court judge Edward Muriithi and two other judges said the MRC failed to register as a political party or association and had no legal basis to file an application to stop elections.
The MRC spokesman, Mohamed Mraja, criticized the ruling.
“I urge you to suppress your anger and go back to your homes in peace. Our lawyer will file an appeal,” he told supporters.
Kenyan police launched a crackdown on the movement in October and have arrested MRC leader Omar Mwamnuadzi, Mraja and other senior members, who are now out on bail but face charges including possession of firearms and incitement to violence.
Writing by James Macharia; editing by Jason Webb