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Gang protests dampen Kenya's joy over cabinet

14/04/2008 - 14:16

By C. Bryson Hull

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Gang violence broke out on Monday inKenya, underscoring the huge task facing a day-old coalitiongovernment created to address decades of tensions that fuelleda deadly post-election crisis.

Just 12 hours after President Mwai Kibaki named a 41-membercabinet with opposition chief Raila Odinga as prime minister,protests by the feared Mungiki gang killed at least one personand marred what should have been a day of celebration.

The naming of a coalition cabinet was the crux of a deal tosolve the east African nation's post-vote crisis, in which morethan 1,200 people were killed in Kenya's bloodiest episodesince independence from Britain in 1963.

It exposed years of rifts over ethnicity, land and powerthat Kibaki and Odinga are tasked with addressing through theirnew government -- which now has Kenya's biggest and mostexpensive cabinet.

On Monday, the Mungiki gang -- Kenya's version of the mafia-- paralysed transport in Nairobi and the Rift Valley town ofNaivasha with burning tyres and stranded trucks, echoing theworst days after the December 27 poll that Odinga said Kibakistole.

Mungiki, drawn from Kibaki's majority Kikuyu ethnic group,was blamed for murders and forced circumcisions during theelection crisis, which experts said showed their longstandingrole as muscle-for-hire to politicians.

"Around 6 a.m., a gang of about 70 men stopped my truck andtold me to park across the road. They stole my keys and ranaway," driver John Ndiranga said on Kenya's main highway, 30 km(18 miles) north of Nairobi where traffic was snarled.

In the capital's slums, the gang fought with police andresidents from rival tribes. Reuters witnesses saw at least oneperson who had been shot dead. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithesaid were no deaths, while local media reported seven.

SHILLING REBOUNDS

Kenya's shilling currency market shrugged off the Mungikiproblems and rose 1.9 percent to an intraday high of 61.05/15-- levels last seen regularly almost a decade ago.

The currency has been one of the most sensitive barometersof confidence in the political process, and has rebounded sincea February 28 deal brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annanthat got ensnared in a six-week deadlock over cabinet posts.

Mungiki said on local radio that they were protesting atthe beheading of the wife of their jailed leader Maina Njengalast week. But analysts said the timing -- just a day after thecabinet was named -- suggested there was more to it.

"She was killed a whole week ago, so surely one can seethat the timing is a bit odd. There is something to do with thecabinet," political analyst Gitau Warigi told Reuters.

Security analyst Ambrose Murunga said the gang may beseeking to be paid for its services during the crisis, orexpressing displeasure at the outcome.

"There has always been a political link. It could beanything, the money, sending a message, politics," he said.

Kibaki has been under pressure by members of his tribe tocede nothing to Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, becausethey blame his allies for organising the killing of hundreds ofKikuyus in the Rift Valley. Odinga's party denies that.

(Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina and HerewardHolland)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say onthe top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)


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