NAIROBI, Kenya — The leader of Kenya's main opposition party urged his supporters to boycott a rerun of the disputed presidential election scheduled for Thursday amid rising political tensions and fears of violence in the East African country.
Jubilant supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is seeking a second term, celebrated the news that the election will proceed, and he said security forces will be deployed nationwide to ensure order during the vote. In a televised address Wednesday, Kenyatta urged Kenyans to vote but he also said the rights of those who don't want to vote are protected under the law.
His electoral rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, called on his political coalition to become a "resistance movement," accusing the president of moving a country known for relative stability and openness toward authoritarian rule.
"Do not participate," Odinga told a noisy rally of thousands of followers in Nairobi's Uhuru Park on the eve of the vote. The gathering was mostly peaceful, though police fired tear gas to disperse some groups of opposition supporters who were occupying roads after the demonstration had ended.
Protesters also set fires and blocked roads in part of Nairobi's Kibera slum, and police and demonstrators clashed throughout the day in some neighborhoods in Kisumu, Kenya's third-largest city and an opposition stronghold.
Kenya's Supreme Court failed Wednesday to muster enough judges to hear a last-minute petition that sought to postpone the vote, a rerun of an election in August that was won by Kenyatta but then annulled last month by the court due to what it called irregularities and illegalities.
Chief Justice David Maraga appeared alone in the courtroom and said only he and one other judge were able to attend the hearing. The driver for one justice had been shot Tuesday evening, raising fears about intimidation of the judiciary.
Outside court, hundreds of women in white scarves called for peace, concerned that violence might break out as it had following a disputed election in 2007 that left more than 1,000 dead.
Police originally had banned the Odinga rally, but allowed it to take place. His supporters were bused in and had gathered in an almost celebratory mood, banging drums and blowing whistles and vuvuzelas as many people danced and wore orange caps and T-shirts with his initials "R.A.O."
The petition to postpone the rerun of the election argued that electoral officials have said they cannot ensure the vote would be free, fair and credible.
Harun Ndubi, a lawyer for the three petitioners, suggested that some judges who did not attend the hearing may have violated their constitutional duties.
"The justices must forever be available," said Ndubi, although he acknowledged that the deputy chief justice whose police driver was wounded in the shooting may have been genuinely troubled.Comment on this story
"For the others, I don't buy their explanation," he said. "I don't see a credible or legitimate election happening tomorrow."
Odinga had challenged Kenyatta's victory in August, claiming hackers had infiltrated the computer servers and manipulated the vote. He has since complained that the electoral commission has not been reformed after the court nullified the result.
In its stunning decision last month, the court had cited the electoral commission's unwillingness to let court-appointed technicians scrutinize its computer system.