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As Kenya Political Stalemate Drags On, U.S. Becomes a Target

“The demonstration is part of the ongoing effort by both sides to get the United States on their side,” Mr. Godec said on Friday. “The U.S. is a major voice here, and they want our support and use all available tactics, including criticism on social media or a demonstration. The government, from time to time, criticizes as well, though they tend to do so quietly, privately and, occasionally, publicly.”

Mr. Godec, who has served in Nairobi, the capital, since 2013, has been engaging with Mr. Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta, along with their political parties. The two men are at an impasse after disputed presidential elections last year led to two votes in three months.

The opposition’s frustration with United States policy has been building for weeks, even as its coalition has begun to crumble amid disagreements surrounding Mr. Odinga’s professed inauguration as “the people’s president.”

That move provoked a state crackdown on dissent, with the government shutting independent television stations for more than a week, arresting opposition politicians, defying court orders to restore TV broadcasts, and deporting an opposition lawyer. The opposition’s stance has also failed to persuade Mr. Kenyatta to have a dialogue with Mr. Odinga or schedule new elections.

As the situation has dragged on, the opposition’s senior leaders acknowledge that internal disagreements threaten to fracture the coalition.

“In politics, there are never any permanent lines — in Kenya in particular, but also in other countries,” said Salim Lone, an adviser to Mr. Odinga. “People come together because they feel a coalition serves all of their interests, and when they feel it doesn’t, of course they can leave.”

Some opposition members, though, are pushing the movement toward an extreme, and the United States has been a target.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Odinga’s supporters burned American flags outside the Nairobi High Court as they protested the detention of one of their leaders. This week, a youth leader shouted anti-Godec messages as a crowd burned another flag.

At a news conference on Wednesday by the opposition’s youth wing, one leader, Damon Osawa, threatened to occupy Mr. Godec’s residence and promised him “a serious fight.”

“I’m telling you, it is not going to be a normal day for you,” said Mr. Osawa, who also goes by the name Jonah and is the youth leader of Mr. Odinga’s political party. “With your Marine troops, you will kill all of us before you go free.”

David Ochola, national coordinator of the youth wing of the National Resistance Movement, also known as N.R.M., implied that his group and the bigger opposition coalition, known as NASA, would consider violence if their demands were not met.

“We will release our soldiers because as N.R.M., we have our soldiers, and as NASA government, we have our soldiers,” he said at a news conference at the opposition’s headquarters in Nairobi on Wednesday. The government designated N.R.M. as an “organized criminal group” in January, though it has yet to provide evidence to support the designation.

The language has escalated partly in response to a statement, released on Sunday and signed by 11 Western ambassadors, including the American ambassador, that seemed to stop just short of denouncing Mr. Odinga.

“A father of multiparty democracy has made unsubstantiated claims about elections and unilaterally sworn himself as ‘president,’ in deliberate disregard of the Constitution for which he so proudly fought,” it said.

The statement also criticized the government for its crackdown, but opposition supporters said it came down more heavily against their leader.

Senior opposition officials have distanced the coalition from the threatening language used at the news conference, and Mr. Lone said youth members were not official representatives of the coalition.

But longtime observers worry that hot-tempered supporters in the orbit of the coalition, rather than in the leadership, may ignite serious problems.

Mr. Lone appeared to acknowledge that possibility.

“The longer this crisis goes on, the more people are getting radicalized — by now, we have to say have been radicalized,” Mr. Lone said. “This is what Raila has been saying for months.”

Source: NYT > World

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