NAIROBI: Thousands of Kenyans rallied Monday for an anti-government demonstration in the capital's central park amid heavy police presence, with political and ethnic tensions high following weekend attacks in which over 21 were killed.
Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has organized the rally to address what he says are major government failures, including worsening crime and insecurity, rising living costs, impunity, corruption and allegations of ethnic favoritism in government appointments.
Police were searching and screening supporters as they entered Nairobi's Uhuru park, or "Freedom" in Swahili, an AFP reporter said.
The rally, the culmination of a series of countrywide demonstrations, is held on the July 7 anniversary of protests for multi-party democracy in the 1990s, a date heavy with symbolism and known commonly as "Saba-Saba," or "Seven-Seven" in Swahili.
Police say that they have deployed 15,000 officers to ensure the rally passes off peacefully, with the country already on high alert fearing attacks by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab gunmen, who have vowed revenge for Kenya's military presence in Somalia.
Al-Shabab claimed twin attacks in Kenya's coastal region Saturday night in which at least 21 were killed, the latest in a series of killings, although police blamed the Mombasa Republican Council, a group that campaigns for independence of the coastal region.
Al-Shabab also claimed responsibility for attacks last month at Mpeketoni. Survivors reported how gunmen speaking Somali and carrying Al-Shabab flags killed non-Muslims.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, however, denied that Al-Shabab were involved and instead blamed "local political networks" and criminal gangs, saying that victims had been singled out because of their ethnicity.
Tensions are high.
Some broadcasters have been accused of issuing hate speech whipping up ethnic divisions, the national communication authority said in a statement printed in newspapers Monday.
"Some broadcast stations are taking advantage of the prevailing political situation in the country to air content containing hate speech," it said, warning individuals that "incitement to violence and advocacy of hatred" online on social media was a crime.