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Friday, 8 September, 2000, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Suspicions aroused over Nairobi fires
Scene of Nairobi's Gikomba market fire
Thousands saw their source of livelihood reduced to ashes
Mystery surrounds the cause of recent fires that gutted two of the largest markets in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in the past two weeks.

Millions of dollars worth of goods were lost in the blazes and stallholders and the country's press have been suggesting that deliberate arson is to blame.


Two infernos in two weeks targeting hawkers ... is a little hard to believe

Daily Nation
The latest fire on Tuesday night at Gikomba, the country's largest open air market, whose history dates back to colonial days, triggered riots by stallholders who saw the source of their livelihood go up in smoke.

According to the independent Daily Nation newspaper, the Gikomba fire and the fire 10 days earlier at the Freemark Centre are "clear cases of gross misfortune bordering on the criminal".

A commentary in Friday's paper said that two fires in two weeks targeting hawkers selling second-hand clothes was just "a little hard to believe".

"Speculation, conspiracy theories and even violent protests will continue until the mystery is solved," it said.

Police say that investigations are on going.

Plot to kick out hawkers

Stallholders have sharply differed with claims by the city's mayor, John Ndirangu, that the fire at Gikomba was a normal accident.

Riot police battling vendors
The Gikomba fire led to riots in the city
They accused the council of harbouring intentions to drive them out of the market in order to pave the way for a private developer.

The vendors who sold second-hand clothes, popularly known as "mitumba", and other goods, believe hired arsonists sprinkled petrol around the stalls before setting them ablaze.

The Daily Nation reports that security men who tried to prevent the spread of the fire were beaten back by unknown people.

Long-running feud

There are also reports that as the flames raged for nine hours, strangers dashed in and out of the market with jerry cans initially thought to be carrying water, but which actually contained petrol.

A frustrated vendor
The Government is promising financial assistance to victims
Investigations by the Daily Nation also point to a long standing dispute between residents of the neighbouring Gorofani estate and market stall owners.

The residents have long demanded the demolition of the stores claiming they polluted their environment and were a health hazard.

The government, in a bid to distance itself from any accusations has said it will assist vendors to rebuild their stalls.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Africa
Riots follow Nairobi market blaze
18 Aug 00 | Africa
Nairobi's taps run dry
01 Sep 00 | Africa
Kenya curses the month of August
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