Police in Kisumu were on Wednesday forced to fire in the air and lob teargas canisters at youths who had stormed a hotel in the town to flush out women they claimed were buying voters’ cards.
The youths engaged police in running battles, blocking roads and hurling stones at the police and into Jumuiya Resort Hotel.
They destroyed property as police fought to keep the more than 150 women safe.
The women were in the hotel hall for training under the Nyanza Women of Faith Network. It was an inter-religious meeting, they claimed.
Ms Stella Okoyo, a delegate from Siaya County, said they had checked in on Tuesday evening and started the training on Wednesday morning before a group of four forced their way inside the hall.
“They accused us of being Jubilee agents buying national identification cards from locals yet we were there to be trained on peace and disaster management,” said Mrs Okoyo.
The incident happened a day after Kisumu Central ODM Secretary-General Samuel Nyabinda accused chiefs of aiding in the buying of ID cards.
Ms Okoyo said the group of youths grew bigger as more came in and ordered them out.
In the melee, the delegates lost their mobile phones, laptops and other valuables as many of them ran back to their rooms to hide.
The youths dragged some women outside, robbed and assaulted them.
But one of the protesters, Mr John Oketch, claimed that what was meant to be a religious meeting had turned into an ID buying exercise by unknown agents.
“We have heard of such cases in Awasi and Jua Kali area and we shall not condone this ahead of the October election,” said Mr Oketch.
Bishop Betty Onyango, who was one of the facilitators, denied they were buying IDs.
She told reporters they were training women on disaster management and peace. She tabled a programme of the event.
“Following the recent happenings in Kisumu and Nyanza as a whole where women were victims, as religious leaders we saw the need to engage them in preaching peace and that is what we were doing. How we turned into Jubilee agents I don’t know,” said Bishop Onyango.
She added: “We understand that there are a lot of rumours as we get close to the election; politicians should investigate the claims before taking such actions on innocent people.”
Police came in later to disperse the crowd and evacuate the women.
The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya on Wednesday evening condemned the youths.
Dr Francis Kuria, the Executive Director of the council, said it was a cowardly act for youths to attack women who were meeting to support the very causes the youths were fighting for.
“It is unacceptable and vile to attack defenceless women under the guise of political activism and thuggery,” he said in a statement.