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Monday, April 14, 2008

Mungiki protests dampen Kenya's Cabinet celebrations

NAIROBI - Kenya's most feared criminal gang paralysed transport today, posing an early challenge to a power-sharing cabinet formed to end post-election deadlock. Up to seven people were killed when the Mungiki gang shut down roads in Nairobi and Naivasha in a gesture of anger after the beheading of its leader's wife.

Police declined immediate comment and it was not clear if the action had political implications. But it gave a foretaste of the problems facing the new coalition cabinet named yesterday by President Mwai Kibaki after six weeks of political tension. "The Nairobi-Nakuru highway has been closed down with stones and bonfires," said a man in Naivasha who identified himself only as Mwangi because he feared retaliation from the gang. In the capital, the streets were empty of the matatu minibuses that normally clog its roads. Residents were stranded as throngs of gang youths ordered bus drivers not to move and burned several vehicles.

Fears of reprisal killings
The discovery of the headless body of Virginia Nyaiko, wife of jailed gang leader Maina Njenga, on Thursday prompted fears that the ruthless group would unleash reprisal killings. The gang last year launched a campaign of terror with dozens of beheadings and murders, prompting a brutal police crackdown in which at least 100 people and 11 police officers were killed.

Mungiki is Kenya's version of the mafia, running protection rackets that reap millions of shillings a day from the minibus transport industry that is Kenya's public transportation lifeline, police say. They often provide muscle-for-hire to politicians and were blamed for murders and forced circumcisions in election violence that killed at least 1,200 people and uprooted 300,000 more.

Riots and politically motivated ethnic killings erupted after opposition leader Raila Odinga said Kibaki had rigged his re-election in a December 27 vote. Kibaki made Odinga prime minister in a 41-member coalition cabinet after a secret weekend meeting ending the deadlock.

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