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Kenya’s police tear gassed, beat and detained people ahead of a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew that started on Friday night, drawing criticism from citizens, government officials and human rights organizations.

Hours before the curfew began, the officers fired tear gas at ferry commuters in the coastal city of Mombasa, according to images and videos shared on social media. Chaos ensued, with the police beating commuters, detaining some of them, and pushing them to lie face down on the ground. Passengers coughed, spat and touched their faces to unblock their mouths and noses. The police also beat a journalist as he covered Kenyans rushing to beat the curfew.

The country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, this week ordered the police along with the Coast Guard to manage the crossing of the ferry between Mombasa and Likoni, a district on the mainland, to ensure the orderly passage and social distancing of commuters. Chaos erupted at the ferry terminal on Thursday evening and tension rose there on Friday as the curfew drew near.

The 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is among a raft of measures officials introduced to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including canceling all classes at schools and universities, banning religious gatherings and suspending all international flights. The East African nation had 38 confirmed cases of the virus on Saturday evening and, like Egypt and Senegal, introduced an overnight curfew.

A total of 46 African countries have reported cases. The virus has spread fastest in states with more air connections and commerce with Europe and China, and the capacity to do the testing to confirm positive cases. Among those are Egypt, South Africa and Kenya.

Government officials and human rights organizations criticized the incident in Mombasa, with the police spokesman, Charles Owino, calling it “regrettable.” On Friday, 20 human rights groups, including Amnesty International, condemned the police conduct as “unnecessary and excessive.”


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