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Obama an 'immature puppet', says Kenya

Africa

Kenya hit back on Tuesday at blistering criticism of government corruption by visiting United States Senator Barack Obama, dismissing the lawmaker of Kenyan descent as "immature" and an opposition "puppet".

A day after Obama used a nationally televised address to deliver a stinging attack on rampant graft that he said had plunged Kenya into "crisis", government spokesperson Alfred Mutua questioned the senator's intelligence.

"It is now clear that he was speaking out of ignorance and does not understand Kenyan politics. We earlier thought he was mature in his assessment of Kenyan and African politics," Mutua told AFP.

"But we forgive him because it is his first time in the senate and he is yet to mature into understanding issues of foreign policy," he said.

Obama, who capped the public schedule of his triumphant return to his father's homeland with the critical speech on Monday, was on a private family visit to a Kenyan wildlife reserve on Tuesday and not available for comment.

Mutua said the junior senator from Illinois, the lone African-American in the Senate and potential Democratic Party presidential nominee, had been played as a pawn by the Kenyan opposition ahead of elections set for next year.

"It is very clear that the senator has been used as a puppet to perpetuate opposition politics, which is very shocking because he is supposed to be an intelligent man," he said.

Obama, the son of a Kenyan goat herder-turned-government economist, has been given a rock star reception by hundreds of thousands here who have turned out to greet him on his third visit to the east African nation.

In his speech to faculty and students at the University of Nairobi on Monday, which was carried live on all local television stations, Obama rebuked President Mwai Kibaki's government for failing to address corruption.

"The freedom that you fought so hard to win... is in jeopardy," he said to applause from the standing-room only crowd.

"It is being threatened by corruption."

"Here in Kenya, it is a crisis, a crisis that is robbing an honest people of the opportunities that they have fought for, the opportunity they deserve," he said, urging citizens to demand accountability from Kibaki's government.

Kibaki swept to power on a reform platform in 2002 elections but has come under heavy criticism for failing to meet anti-graft pledges and his government has been rocked by two major corruption scandals. - Sapa-AFP

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