Police yesterday teargassed Wakulima Market traders who were demanding the release of three officials.
Police, city askaris and the traders engaged in running battles, turning Haile Selassie Avenue and part of Jogoo Road into a battle zone.
The traders said police and city askaris arrested the three officials on Wednesday.
But city official yesterday said the operation targetted muggers and pickpockets not traders.
Starehe MP Charles Njagua, popularly known as Jaguar, was injured as he tried to engage the traders and city officers on Wednesday.
Yesterday he told the Star on the phone he suffered a fracture in the leg, but did not give further details.
During yesterday’s clash, traders blocked a section of Haile Selassie Avenue with burning tyres and pelted police with stones. Police fired teargas at the traders to disperse them.
Some pedestrians joined the traders and made it almost impossible for commuters to get into town centre using the two roads.
A trader called Jeremy said trouble started on Wednesday when city askaris and police lobbed teargas canister into the market.
“The city officers came in the afternoon and started chasing away traders who sought refuge in the market. That was when teargas was thrown in,” he said.
Jeremy said when their leaders went to ask the officers why they were attacking the traders, they were arrested.
The three include Wakulima Traders chairman Kiguta and a youth leader called Simo. They were taken to City Hall Court.
The traders said they will not relent until their officials are released. They said city officers have been extorting money from them.
“Hawa Kanjo wametuzoea sana. Kila saa wanasema tuwape ya macho. Lakini tumechoka na imetosha (These officers ask for bribes all the time. We are tired. Enough is enough),” trader Veronica Njeri said.
But City Hall director of operations Peter Mbaya denied the extortion claims. He said officers were conducting an operation on Wednesday to arrest muggers and pickpockets.
“Claims that my officers are extorting [money from] the traders are not true. Those traders know well there are pickpockets among them and they are protecting them,” Mbaya said.
He said the muggers and pickpockets have been terrorising pedestrians and motorists, especially in the evening.
Mbaya said the muggers stay under the footbridge on Haile Selassie Avenue. “They use this tactic to confuse people buying goods
from traders,” he said.
Mbaya said they will continue conducting the operation until all muggers and pickpockets have been apprehended and charged.
“We are trying to restore the city’s security and we will not hold back until Nairobi is safe from criminals,” he said.
Njagua yesterday said it was wrong to fire teargas into the market. “Even if they [city officers] were carrying out an operation to arrest muggers, why would they throw teargas in a market with more than 800 people?” he said.
Njagua said teargas only escalates chaos because traders see it as a violent attack on them.