NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn-in for a second five-year term in front of a rapturous crowd on Tuesday as riot police sealed off an area where the opposition planned a rival gathering and teargassed people trying to reach it.
Kenyatta won a repeat presidential election on Oct. 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, a Western ally in a volatile region, and blunted growth in East Africa’s richest economy.
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 Odinga’s supporters pointing out that three of the country’s four presidents have come from one ethnic group, although the country has 44 recognised groups.
But such arguments seemed far from the happy crowds at the celebration, who cheered wildly as 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,” Kenyatta 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 stadium where the ceremony took place.
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. Some, chafing at the restrictions, overwhelmed police and streamed in. Officers were forced to fire teargas to control them.
Supporters of Kenyatta – who won with 98 percent of the vote after Odinga’s boycott – was 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 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,” Odinga’s National Super Alliance opposition alliance said in a statement.
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.
A Reuters team 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 teargas 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, told Reuters on Tuesday morning they were still planning to hold the rally.