Monday, January 21, 2008


Drums, dancing greet Kenya opposition leader
Mon 21 Jan 2008, 13:53 GMT

By Guled Mohamed

KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) - Fanatical supporters of Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga banged drums, danced and blew whistles on Monday as the former political prisoner returned to his western stronghold of Kisumu.

The veteran politician is fighting the toughest battle of his turbulent career to try to win back what he considers his stolen victory in December 27 polls, a disputed vote which saw President Mwai Kibaki re-elected.

Nowhere is his backing more fierce than in Kisumu, an industrial town perched on the edge of Lake Victoria in Nyanza province near where he was born.

So rapturous was his welcome back after three weeks of violence across the nation that the ceremony he attended for those killed in the unrest turned into a political rally.

Police have crushed previous efforts to hold rallies in the flashpoint town with an iron fist, shooting dead scores of demonstrators -- many of them as they tried to flee.

"This was supposed to be a mourning ceremony but it seems Raila's homecoming has overshadowed the funeral service here," said Terry Sylvenas, a 40-year-old mother-of-two.

"People are dancing their hearts out and praising Raila."

More than 650 people have died across Kenya and a quarter of a million have been displaced since the vote in some of the worst unrest in living memory. Kisumu -- Kenya's third largest city -- has been among the hardest hit.

"We will not be cowed by guns, handcuffs and prison," Odinga told frenzied crowds in the town's stadium.

His supporters called for arms and waved banners reading "We want guns, we want guns!" and "Give us guns and they will see!".

"I want Kibaki to listen to this, my people are telling me to give them guns," Odinga said in the local Luo language.

But he added: "We will not remove Kibaki by using guns, we will vote him out."

Odinga, who spent nine years in jail under former president Daniel arap Moi for protesting at one-party rule, has garnered support well beyond his western Luo stronghold among tribes who feel marginalised by Kibaki's Kikuyu and their allies.

Many of his supporters in Nyanza see his political fight as a rare chance to deliver the Luo tribe to the centre stage and reverse decades of decline they say has kept their province in the economic doldrums.

Almost two-thirds of those living in Nyanza survive on $1 a day or less, making it one of Kenya's poorest areas. The United Nations says more than half have no access to safe water.

While mourning the dead, many also saw Monday's ceremony as a symbol of hope.

"We have come to mourn and to happily welcome our president back home," said Rose Akinyi, 35, a mother of three who closed her tailor's shop to attend the rally.

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