Kenya Police Fire Teargas to Halt Gang Protest

Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyan police fired teargas on Wednesday to scatter street protests by hundreds of young men demanding the release of a former leader of the outlawed Mungiki gang from prison.

Police in riot gear chased the protesters through downtown Nairobi, frightening residents still on edge after post-election violence which killed more than 1,000 people and forced 300,000 from their homes.

"We demand the immediate release of Maina Njenga and his cars, which were impounded by the police," a statement given to Reuters by a rioter said.

John Maina Njenga, a former leader and founder member of the Mungiki criminal gang, is serving a five-year sentence for possession of an illegal firearm.

Mungiki, which means "multitude" in the Kikuyu tribal language is notorious for beheadings, and was accused of killing hundreds of people during the post-election violence.

Police were not immediately available to comment.

A new power-sharing deal negotiated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has brought calm to Kenya, and economic activity has resumed.

Last year, police killed at least 33 people in a crackdown on the gang, blamed for a spate of brutal murders in Nairobi and central Kenya.

According to local media, Njenga renounced the gang while in prison, saying he had become a born-again Christian.

Mungiki began in the 1990s as a quasi-religious sect and portrays itself as a champion of the poor.

Police say it is a large organized crime operation, which earns money by extorting protection fees from minibus operators or operating as political muscle-for-hire.

The gang was banned in 2002 after members armed with knives and clubs killed more than 20 people in a Nairobi slum.