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Government backs down on Uhuru Park rally after Raila, Uhuru talks

By Roselyne Obala and Rawlings Otieno | Published Wed, June 1st 2016 at 00:00, Updated May 31st 2016 at 23:53 GMT +3

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto held talks with Opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Moses Wetang’ula at State House, Nairobi, yesterday.

The meeting came hot on the heels of weekly protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries  Commission (IEBC), in which three people have been killed and scores injured in clashes with the police. It is understood that the meeting was a culmination of intense horse-trading.

President Uhuru Kenyatta,CORD leaders Raila Odinga and Moses Wetangula chat with South Korea's President Park Geun-hye during a Luncheon hosted in his honour at State House, Nairobi. The Government okayed the CORD rally after the leaders declined an invitation to attend the national fete in Afraha Stadium, Nakuru, today. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

Yesterday's surprise State House visit by Raila and Wetang'ula averted a major showdown during today's celebrations to mark Madaraka Day, the day Kenya won internal rule from colonial Britain, and secured the Opposition an opportunity to hold a rally at Uhuru Park unmolested by State agents.

The Government okayed the CORD rally after the leaders declined an invitation to attend the national fete in Afraha Stadium, Nakuru, today.

Earlier, the High Court had ordered that the Opposition be allowed to hold the rally at the historic national grounds and be provided with security.

Last evening, Raila and Wetang'ula held a series of meetings with their top advisers at Nairobi Serena Hotel.

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Former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, another CORD co-principal, was constantly updated on the developments and ultimately okayed the idea of CORD meeting with President Kenyatta.

The Standard learnt that the build up to yesterday's State House visit by the duo started on Monday night when, after a series of phone calls, climaxed with the Opposition dispatching two emissaries to meet the government players involved.

This happened at a time when Siaya Senator James Orengo and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed were headed to the Milimani Court to extract orders to hold their rally at Uhuru Park.

In a day of high drama, Raila first flew to Narok to attend a burial soon after holding a meeting with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in Nairobi in the morning. It is understood that it was while in Narok that Raila was called and informed of the State House meeting at 2.30pm.

Uhuru's action followed concern and pressure from religious groups, diplomats, the business community as well as human rights groups who wanted the impasse over the electoral agency resolved to end the unease in the country even as it prepares to host high profile guests and international meetings such UNCtad and Ticad.

And for the first time in history, President Kenyatta is scheduled to mark this year's National Madaraka Day celebrations in Nakuru, a complete departure from the past when it has traditionally been held in Nairobi.

Though the information released by the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit (PSCU) immediately after yesterday's State House meeting appeared scanty, inside sources confirmed that the talks touched on a myriad issues.

According to a communique by State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu, the President took the opportunity to extend an invite to the CORD principals to attend the national Madaraka Day celebrations in Nakuru.

Later after the State House meeting, several CORD leaders inspected Uhuru Park, the venue of their prayer rally today.

An source indicated that the President assured the Opposition leadership that the outstanding issues that have put his government at loggerheads with the Opposition can be resolved amicablly without holding parallel rallies.

"Raila flatly declined the President's offer. The President is considering allowing the Uhuru Park rally to go on," said the source.

After the meeting, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery called a press briefing affirming that the Opposition was free to hold their rally.

"The Police will provide security to CORD in Uhuru Park to celebrate. CORD are also Kenyans who should be given security but there is a rider. We do not expect any unnecessary issues," he said.

On Monday, Nkaissery had warned CORD that the government would deal with them firmly if they dared go to Uhuru Park for the parallel rally.

At the same time, Justice George Odunga issued orders that the celebrations were legal and should be accorded maximum security.

The Police later issued a statement pleading with CORD to look for an alternative venue for their rally.

"We shall be having two visiting heads of state on June 1, namely the President of South Korea who will be departing in the morning and the President of the Republic of Turkey, who will be arriving later in the afternoon. Therefore inviting huge crowds to Uhuru Park close to Uhuru Highway that will be used by two leaders will pose huge logistical and security challenges," the police said said in a statement signed by G. Kinoti, for the Inspector General of Police.

In an exclusive State House video, Raila is seen teasing Nkaissery in the presence of National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Township) over teargas on anti-IEBC demonstrators.

"You crossed over to the other side, now you are one of them. You order that we be teargassed but I will not hold it against you. You are getting orders from your top boss. He is the one we will hold to account," Raila jokingly told Nkaissery.

Earlier, Raila and Wetang'ula joined the President, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta and the Deputy President for a State luncheon in honour of visiting South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.