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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Kenya president sworn in as police use tear gas on opposition

But opposition leader says he will hold his own inauguration in two weeks saying he is the "legitimate" president

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday rejected the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and vowed to hold his own swearing-in as president in two weeks time.

"I will be sworn in because I am the legitimate president. We are going to be sworn in on December 12," he said, comparing the ceremony to that of Zimbabwe's new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sworn in after Robert Mugabe was forced out.

Mr Kenyatta was sworn in for a second five-year term in front of a rapturous crowd at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi as riot police fired tear gas at crowds who tried to hold a rally in support of the opposition. Police sealed off the area with tyres and boulders.

Mr Kenyatta won a repeat presidential election on October 26 that was boycotted by opposition leader Raila Odinga, who said it would not be free and fair.

The Supreme Court nullified the first presidential election in August over irregularities.

The extended election season has divided Kenya and hampered growth in East Africa's richest economy.

Mr Odinga's supporters, many drawn from poorer parts of the country, feel locked out of power and the patronage it brings.

Political arguments often have ethnic undercurrents, with his supporters pointing out that three of the country's four presidents have come from one ethnic group, although the country has 44 recognised groups.

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Read more:

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But such arguments seemed far from the happy crowds at the celebration, who cheered wildly as Mr Kenyatta was sworn into office and as he received a 21-gun salute.

"I … do swear … that I will always truly and diligently serve the people of the Republic of Kenya," he said, his hand resting on a Bible.

Before he arrived, a military band in gold and blue uniforms serenaded heads of state from Somalia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Zambia and other nations as they arrived at the Kasarani stadium, the venue for the ceremony.

More than 60,000 Kenyatta supporters, many clad in the red and yellow Jubilee party colours and carrying Kenyan flags, filled the stadium benches. Thousands of others waited outside. Frustrated at not being allowed in, some overwhelmed the police and streamed in. The police retaliated by firing tear gas at them.

Supporters of Mr Kenyatta — who won with 98 per cent of the vote after Mr Odinga's boycott — want the opposition to engage in talks and move on.

"I’m sure Uhuru will be able to bring people together and unite them so we can all work for the country," said Eunice Jerobon, a trader who travelled overnight from the Rift Valley town of Kapsabet for the inauguration, before the disturbance.

But Odinga supporters say such talk of unity is tantamount to surrender. They accuse the ruling party of stealing the election, rampant corruption, directing abuse by the security forces and neglecting vast swathes of the country, including Mr Odinga's heartland in the west.

"A return to the political backwardness of our past is more than unacceptable. It is intolerable … This divide cannot be bridged by dialogue and compromise," Mr Odinga's National Super Alliance opposition grouping said.

The opposition planned to hold a prayer meeting in the capital on Tuesday, saying it wanted to commemorate the lives of Odinga supporters killed during confrontations with the security forces over the election period.

More than 70 people have been killed in political violence this election season, mostly by the police. Such killings are rarely investigated.

Eye witnesses at the scene of the planned rally said the area had been sealed off by seven truck loads of police in riot gear. Two water cannons were standing by and a helicopter hovered overhead.

Police began firing tear gas in nearby residential areas two hours before the rally was due to start, apparently attempting to prevent opposition supporters from gathering.

Several roads were blocked by burning tyres, rocks, glass and uprooted billboards. Police shot in the air to disperse anyone trying to gather.

But Dennis Onyango, a spokesman for Odinga, said the rally would go on regardless.