Hundreds of Kenyans protested on Tuesday against a four-month government curfew imposed on the coastal county of Lamu after gunmen killed about 100 people there this year, authorities and residents said.
The government last week extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew until the end of November, saying it was meant to help police provide security in the region, close to southern Somalia.
But residents say it has further damaged trade and fishing which was already suffering after the attacks near Lamu, an ancient trading port and tourist resort which lies in an area of Kenya where local communities have a history of conflict over land, water and other resources.
Protesting youths threw rocks at those who opened their businesses on Tuesday, demanding they join the protests.
“We will demonstrate. We have also frozen all business activities. No shop will be opened and no boats will be available to ferry people from this island beginning today until the curfew is lifted,” Ali Lali, 27, a protester, said.
Kenyan police dispersed the protesters, but many shops, hotels, offices and public transport remained closed.
An imam who helped organise the protests said the curfew was hurting the local economy.
“(Many) local hotels and businesses have closed down and thousands have lost jobs,” Salim Ramadhan said. “The crime rate has gone up because people cannot even go fishing, and yet fishing is the key source of livelihood here.”
Lamu County Governor Issa Timamy said protesters were calling on the government to lift the curfew in areas that had come under attack.
“A blanket curfew across the whole of Lamu is unfair because some of the areas are safe. The curfew should be lifted in these safe areas so that locals can work and earn their living,” Timamy said.
Authorities in Lamu county said the curfew would remain, to improve security.
“The county badly needs peace and we are not going to entertain anything less than that. The government’s mandate is to ensure peace and calm and that is exactly what we’ll do,” Fredrick Ndambuki, Lamu county deputy Commissioner said.
The chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, Eric Mutua, has said that he would take legal action against David Kimaiyo, the inspector general of police over the curfew, saying keeping it in place for months was unreasonable.
Hundreds of families have fled the area despite government assurances that the attacks will soon end. Kenya drafted its army to help fight the attackers who are believed to be hiding in forests around Lamu County.
Somali Islamist group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks in Lamu but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta initially suggested local politicians were behind the raids, although he later said al Shabaab played a role in the violence.