By Magdalene Mukami
NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) - Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans on Wednesday – on the eve of a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – came out in large numbers to celebrate the Madaraka Day festival, marking 53 years since the East African country attained internal self-rule from the British.
Madaraka Day is one of Kenya’s most important celebrated public holidays, and this year’s official celebrations for the first time ever were held outside the Kenyan capital in the town of Nakuru in the Rift Valley region, some 160 kilometers (99 miles) from the capital.
Celebrations this year are also unique as members of the opposition, led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, decided to hold a celebration rally parallel to the government’s.
Police issued a statement asking opposition leaders to refrain from hosting the celebrations, saying that most of their events have ended in violence and even death, warning that they were holding an event adjacent to the main road that will be used by President Erdogan after his arrival Wednesday evening, a warning the opposition ignored.
More than 300,000 opposition supporters came out for celebrations at the Uhuru Park grounds in the Kenyan capital.
The two political leaders used the events as a launchpad for a war of words.
Kenyatta asked Kenyans to be wary of leaders who want to violate the Constitution to achieve their selfish ends and promote violence.
“It is particularly saddening that those who were at the front in supporting the enactment of the Constitution are now turning against the same laws. We must be a nation that respects and follows the rule of law,” Kenyatta said, referring to recent opposition protests of Kenya’s electoral authority, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, claiming it plans to rig next year’s general elections.
Kenyatta added that the opposition should not torment the country through frequent demonstrations where youths are teargassed. He asked opposition leaders to respect the Constitution and use the law if they want the electoral commission changed or disbanded.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, for his part, said defiantly that if the government isn’t ready for talks, “then we are not afraid of being teargassed.”
He said that come Thursday, they will appoint a team to hold talks with the government on how electoral reform should be handled, and that if these talks fail, then next Monday opposition members will protest. Protests since March have claimed at least four lives and left many injured, including police officers.