Kenyan President William Ruto said Tuesday he is ready to meet opposition leader Raila Odinga “anytime” after months of anti-government protests that have sparked international alarm and calls for dialogue.
“As you have always known, am available to meet one on one with you anytime at your convenience,” Ruto said in a post addressing Odinga on Twitter, which is being rebranded as ‘X’.
Since March, Odinga’s Azimio coalition has staged nine days of street protests against the government, with the rallies sometimes degenerating into looting and deadly clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
Odinga called off demonstrations in April and May after Ruto agreed to dialogue, but the talks broke down, with Azimio organising several rounds of protests this month.
At least 50 people have been killed in the skirmishes since March, according to Azimio. Official figures put the toll at 20.
“We are witnessing unprecedented police brutality,” Odinga told a press conference in the capital Nairobi earlier Tuesday.
“Police and hired gangs have shot and killed or wounded scores of people at close range,” he said, adding the violence particularly targeted his Luo tribe.
Ruto has defended the conduct of the police, saying last week: “We do not want a country of violence or fighting or destruction of property”.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, an independent watchdog created by parliament, on Tuesday said it was “disheartening to witness the escalating tensions and the blatant disregard for human rights principles” by both rogue demonstrators and police.
Rights groups including Amnesty International last week denounced “repression” by police and said they had evidence of 27 “extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions” in July alone.
The interior ministry on Tuesday said allegations of “extrajudicial executions and/or excessive use of force… are malicious, false and intended to distort public opinion”.
– Spiralling inflation –
Odinga’s team had called for another round of demonstrations on Wednesday but said they were changing tack to hold “solidarity parades and (a) vigil for victims of police brutality”.
In a statement late Monday, the coalition asked “Kenyans to come out and light candles and lay flowers, preferably white, in remembrance of and respect for the victims.”
Critics accuse Ruto of rowing back on promises made during the August 2022 election campaign, when he declared himself the champion of impoverished Kenyans and pledged to improve their economic fortunes.
But the 56-year-old rags-to-riches businessman has raised taxes even as the country buckles under the burden of spiralling inflation.
Odinga, who claims last year’s election was “stolen” from him, said the protests would continue, despite last week’s push for three consecutive days of demonstrations ending in a damp squib as Kenyans largely ignored the call.
Opposition protests following Odinga’s election loss in 2017 continued until he brokered a surprise pact with his erstwhile foe, former president Uhuru Kenyatta, that became known as “the handshake”.
© Agence France-Presse