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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 13:24 GMT
Police raids - watershed for Kenya
By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

There is a genuine shock and amazement in Kenya that hooded armed police were used to raid media houses.

Piles of newspapers being burnt
Kenyans fear hard won press freedom has gone up in flames

For the past three years, the government has been applauded for opening up "democratic space", and allowing a fair degree of press freedom.

The fact that the only response to come from government so far has been the colourful retort of Internal Security Minister John Michuki that "if you rattle a snake, you must expect to get bitten", smacks of arrogance to the minds of many here, and a government that has grown drunk with power.

Such is the level of dismay in the Kenyan press, amongst human rights activists and the legal profession, there is considerable pressure to ensure the government thinks twice about repeating these tactics.

The storming of the offices of the Standard newspaper and its sister television station KTN, have prompted words such as "outrage" and "barbaric" in Kenya's newspapers.

The United States described the behaviour as "thuggish" and diplomats have issued a statement calling for the government to explain its actions.

The reason why the raids are so significant is that they come at a time when the government of President Mwai Kibaki is looking weak and cornered.

They are troubling too because they have occurred under an administration that came to power on a promise to adhere to the principles of democracy.

Losing friends

A referendum defeat last year (a huge embarrassment for the president) led to the sacking of rebel ministers and the fragmentation of an already fragile coalition.

That, coupled with recent allegations of grand corruption in the president's own newly formed cabinet, has led to high profile resignations and calls for further ministers to go.

President Mwai Kibaki
President Kibaki is under pressure from several sides

So President Kibaki is losing friends among the very people that helped bring him to power and every twist and turn in his coalition's political demise has been picked over by the press.

On the face of it, Thursday's raids seem to have been prompted by an article published last week in the Standard, claiming that a senior opposition figure who was one of the cabinet rebels sacked after the referendum defeat, had secret talks with President Mwai Kibaki.

Both sides deny the meeting happened, but the fact that the politician in question, Kalonzo Musyoka, has added his voice to those condemning the police raids gives some measure of how alarmed many Kenyans feel.

KTN managing editor Farida Karoney said the storming of their offices and the rounding up of staff reflected a "growing level of political intolerance" in the country.

Thursday's raids mark a watershed.

Some Kenyans fear that the actions of President Kibaki's government have an eerie echo of Kenya's dark past.

See the newspaper offices on fire


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