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Muslim and Christian youths clash in Kenyan capital

Posted on: December 4, 2000 5:38 PM
Related Categories: Kenya

By Adrian Blomfield

Muslim and Christian youths fought running battles in Nairobi on Friday (1 December) as a church was burned down and dozens of people, including Kenya's Anglican archbishop, were injured.

The fighting began on Thursday when Muslim teenagers pulled down wooden kiosks which they said had been erected too close to a mosque in the South B housing estate on the south side of the capital.

The kiosk vendors torched a mosque during Thursday's 10-hour battle. The Muslims retaliated on Friday by setting fire to a church and a Christian seminary.

The Catholic 'Our Lady Queen of Peace' Church was reduced to a shell. Its roof had collapsed and only a few pews were saved from the blaze.

"They (the Muslims) came from different parts all over Nairobi," Father George Smith, the parish priest, told Reuters. "Thousands came pouring out toward the church. They started throwing stones into the hall."

"Then they set fire to the church and smashed the windows," Smith, a Scotsman, said. "Me and a German priest were trapped inside as they threw rocks at us. The police were not here to protect us."

The Muslims then moved to the nearby International Christian Center where they burned two cars, smashed windows and threw petrol bombs into the building.

Archbishop Hurt

Christian youths joined the kiosk vendors in the fighting on Friday morning and Archbishop David Gitari, Kenya's leading clergyman, was injured when he went into the area to try to calm things down. He received treatment at a nearby hospital and was later released.

Gitari led a convoy of religious leaders into the area, Anglican Church provincial councilor Susan Mumina said.

"The Muslims saw his purple cloak and just pelted him with rocks," she said. "The Muslim leaders (in the convoy) formed a human shield around him and one drove him to hospital. It would be a very different story if they hadn't come to the rescue."

She said Gitari had been struck on the back of the head with a rock.

Hundreds of youths roamed the streets, fighting each other and hurling rocks at police. Battles broke out in several different locations and witnesses said many people were injured.

In one spot three badly injured Muslims were treated in an ambulance. Some of the vehicle's windows had been smashed and the driver had been beaten by the mob.

Smith shouted at Christian youths who threw rocks and armed themselves with machetes inside his Church compound.

"This is craziness, this is stupidity," he said. "This is blasphemous and has nothing to do with God."

Police fired dozens of salvoes of tear gas to try to contain the Christians.

Police said 28 people were admitted to hospital on Thursday, but it was not clear how many people were injured on Friday.

Kenya has a small Muslim population concentrated in the coastal city of Mombasa and the capital.