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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 19:24 GMT
Cat and mouse in central Nairobi
Police in Nairobi, Kenya

By Noel Mwakugu
BBC News, Nairobi

Heavy rains overnight and into the early hours almost dampened the spirit of Kenya's opposition Orange Democratic Movement supporters gearing up for mass protests in the capital, Nairobi.

But by mid-morning the skies were clear and the dress code of most of the opposition leaders at their Nairobi headquarters was a telling sign that they were ready to march.

ODM leader Raila Odinga, who believes he was cheated of the presidency by his bitter rival Mwai Kibaki, was in his customary cap, leather jacket and light shoes.

ODM leader Raila Odinga, wearing a cap
Through parliament, peaceful people power and international mediation, ODM will ensure that Kenya returns to legitimate rule
ODM leader Raila Odinga

While Charity Ngilu, the former health minister and top member of the party, in her headscarf and trainers, was ready to set the pace on the streets.

Over in the central business district armed riot police patrolled the streets in a show of might, ready for any potential combat.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe maintained that protesters would not be allowed into the central Uhuru Park, where the banned rally was set to take place.

For the better part of the morning, business continued as usual in many parts of the city, although very few people reported to duty for fear of trouble.

With the images of 29 December's post-election violence still fresh in their minds, some parents also chose not to send their children to school, only two days after they re-opened.

Come 1300 local time, chaos did erupt as the ODM leaders and a clutch of their supporters made a tactical attempt to get to Uhuru Park.

Policemen were taken by surprise as they approached from different corners - seeming to confuse them.

The situation is tense as opposition supporters protest

Within seconds, the whole central district was engulfed in a white tear gas and almost everyone was in tears as the police moved quickly to counter the protesters.

Helter-skelter, the politicians and young men, who had been chanting slogans, scattered in the smoke - running to nearby shops for safety.

The lucky ones dashed into their vehicles and sped off.

Then began a game of hide and seek, as anti-riot policemen sought out ODM supporters.

Journalists who had kept vigil at the entrance to Uhuru Park were not spared either - police on guard, seemingly irritated by their presence, lobbed tear gas canisters at them in a vain attempt to disperse them.

Transport paralysed

Across the city in Kibera, a stronghold of the ODM party, some youths barricaded the roads leading to the slum after police stopped them from heading into the city.

Frustrated, the ODM supporters threw stones at police officers, provoking them to open fire. At least two female vendors were seriously injured by stray bullets.

By late afternoon, public transport in and out the city had been paralysed, as police had completely sealed off the business district to traffic, and minibus owners did not want to risk damage to their vehicles.

Many workers left their offices about three hours early to begin the long trek home on foot.

Despite Wednesday's confrontations, ODM leaders insist their protest will continue for another two days across the country.

"Through parliament, peaceful people power and international mediation, ODM will ensure that Kenya returns to legitimate rule," Mr Odinga declared.

Nairobi map

Police breaking up the street protests

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