Kenya police tear-gas children as young as 6-years-old in playground protest

NAIROBI (AFP) - Kenyan police fired tear gas at children as young as six-years-old protesting on Monday against the seizure of their school playground by a property developer.

Around 100 primary school children and a small group of activists pushed over a newly built wall that separated playing fields and the school buildings, close to the capital Nairobi's main domestic airport.

The majority of the children were aged between eight and 13, but the BBC reported that some were as young as 6.

Around 40 armed police accompanied by dogs dispersed the protesters by firing tear gas canisters, a photographer at the scene said.

Dozens of children were caught in choking clouds of tear gas before being forced to shelter on a pedestrian bridge over the main road to escape the noxious fumes.

Children screamed as police officers in riot gear and waving truncheons pushed them back, some panicking as they sought water to wash their burning eyes.

At least five children received medical treatment while one policeman was wounded, seen with blood pouring down beneath his riot helmet.

A senior police officer at the demonstration, Mwangi Kuria, told Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper that officers had been deployed to "safeguard the property", adding that rocks had been thrown at his men.

"This is disputed land, but they should not use the children," Kuria was quoted as saying.

Two activists were detained by police, Kenyan media said.

Macharia Njeru, chairman of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, said the incident would be investigated.

"Teargassing children is inexcusable," he said.

Renowned activist Boniface Mwangi said a "school playground is a necessity, not a privilege". Some of the children carried placards protesting the alleged land grab.

"Kenya: the land of shameless grabbers," read one, with others pleading for government to fight corruption.

"Shame!" read another. "Grabber, you won't live forever."

The incident sparked angry reactions on social media, including Twitter, where comments used the hashtag "#OccupyPlayGround".

"Shame on the government for assaulting children with tear gas to protect the corrupt," politician and former presidential hopeful Martha Karua said on Twitter.

Monday was the first school day since the wall was built during the holidays.

Nairobi, a city of more than three million people, is rapidly growing and land prices are rising at some of the fastest rates anywhere on the continent, according to real estate experts.