Chopper stoned as 'Yes' rivals face off

A helicopter takes off after dropping members of Parliament for a past referendum rally. On Sunday, a chopper carrying Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa, Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa and former Kimilili MP Mukisa Kituyi was blocked from landing by villagers in Bungoma. Photo/FILE

Villagers on Sunday pelted a campaign helicopter with stones to block the pilot from landing, risking the lives of passengers, among them a Cabinet minister.

The chopper, carrying Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa, Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa and former Kimilili MP Mukisa Kituyi was coming in to land at Chwele Market in Bungoma West District when a group blocked it.

On the third attempt, the pilot was able to land safely after a rival group overpowered and chased away the stone throwers. Three people were injured in the confrontation, though there were no details of how badly hurt they were.

Earlier, an announcement was made that the meeting, called to drum up support for the proposed constitution had been postponed. The group that did not want the meeting to go ahead was said to be made up of supporters of Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula, the area MP.

Mr Wetang’ula is away in Uganda attending the African Union heads of state meeting with President Kibaki. There is rivalry between Mr Wetang’ula and Mr Wamalwa with both being potential candidates for the presidency on a Ford Kenya ticket in 2012.

Police had not provided security and the lone Administration Police officer on duty had a difficult time controlling the clashing groups.

The Chwele meeting was one of the scores of rallies across the country as campaigns for and against the new constitution hit top gear. A referendum is scheduled for Wednesday next week.

In President Kibaki’s Othaya constituency, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta led 11 Cabinet ministers and more than 30 MPs in campaigning for the proposed constitution.

In Kitui, retired President Moi, addressing “No” supporters, argued that the new constitution ought to garner 65 per cent of the vote for it to have credibility. The law requires a simple majority.

At Moi Stadium, Kinoru in Imenti North District, Higher Education minister William Ruto led “No” team of Information minister Samuel Poghisio, Assistant minister Margaret Wanjiru and MPs Silas Muriuki, Mithika Linturi and Charles Keter in accusing the government of rigging by using the provincial administration and permanent secretaries in the referendum campaign. There were other “No” rallies in Machakos, Nakuru, Keiyo and Tigania, among others.

In Nairobi, a Cabinet minister and two MPs addressed a big meeting in Kangemi, Nairobi, called by Mr Maina Njenga, the former Mungiki supremo who claims to have quit the illegal sect, and called on Nairobi residents to turn up in large numbers and vote for proposed constitution on August 4.

Regional Development minister Fred Gumo, Kamukunji MP Simon Mbugua and nominated MP Rachel Shebesh, spoke at the meeting that was also attended by former Starehe MP Maina Kamanda.

He should declare his stand

In Chwele, Dr Kituyi challenged Mr Wetang’ula to declare whether he is really in “Yes”, claiming that Mr Wetang’ula is yet to address a single rally in the region. “He is behaving like a watermelon. He should declare his stand,” Dr Kituyi said.

Early this month, Mr Wetang’ula tried to postpone another ‘Yes’ rally in Bungoma town because President Kibaki, who was to preside over it, was engaged elsewhere.

But other ‘Green’ campaigners in Western, led by Deputy Prime Ministers Musalia Mudavadi, overruled him and went ahead with the rally.

On Sunday, Mr Wamalwa, Dr Kituyi and Dr Wekesa held other rallies at Naitiri and Tongaren areas in the district. On Thursday, Mr Moi addressed a rally at Chwele and is expected at Tongaren on Monday.

And in Meru, Mr Ruto campaigned against the proposed law, saying that President Kibaki would leave a poor legacy if the law was passed.

His Information counterpart, Mr Samuel Poghisio, who addressed the same rally asked: “If the State is so sure that it can garner 65 per cent of the vote, why is it spending a lot of taxpayers’ money and forcing the provincial administration to campaign for it?”

In Kitale, Mr Kenyatta assured residents in the area of their security before and after the referendum. Mr Kenyatta said the government had put security measures on the ground and there was no cause for alarm.