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General News of Sunday, 6 May 2007

Source: Times

Five Killed At Pre-Homowo Ritual

Five persons - three children and two women - died in a pandemonium that followed the performance of rites at the Gbese Mantse’s palace in Accra yesterday.

The rites were to usher in the annual Ga Homowo festival, according to unconfirmed reports.

The cause of the deaths could not be ascertained but police reportedly fired tear- gas to disperse the crowd as a result of a clash between two factions supporting two rival claimants to the Gbese Stool, who were at the palace to perform the rites.

The Times could not confirm the deaths as checks at the hospitals drew a blank because of the ongoing strike by health workers.

Police said there was firing of tear-gas but could not confirm any deaths. Deputy Inspector General of Police, K.K. Manfo, told the Times that the first reports reaching him indicated that there were no injuries. However, further investigations were being conducted, he said.

Dr. Manfo said Nii Okaija III, one of the rival chiefs, was said to have gone to the palace to perform the customary rites when people believed to belong to the faction supporting the other chief, Nii Ayibonte II, allegedly attacked them.

He said there was police presence at the palace initially but reinforcement was called in following the pandemonium and the situation was brought under control.

Nii Okaidja in a reaction, told the Times that he went to the palace with his team to perform the customary rites as the Gbese Mantse when supporters of Nii Ayibonte pelted them with stone and in the process broke the windscreen of his car.

He said he asked for police protection "knowing the sort of people Nii Ayibonte’s group are" adding that they did similar thing to him last Friday.

"In any case we have done it, we have another one, we will continue to do it, we are the legitimate," Nii Okaidja said.

According to him, Nii Ayibonte is not the Gbese Mantse and that he (Nii Okaidja) is the legitimate Gbese Mantse and had been accepted by the Ga Traditional Council.

But Nii Ayibonte said if the Nii Okaidja group claimed to have performed the customary rite, "why did they interfere with our performance of the rite?" adding: "we did not attack them."

Giving an account of the incident, a source at the Ardey Akwa We, one of the Gbese Royal Houses alleged that Nii Okaidja appeared at the palace in the company of a contingent of anti-riots police apparently to give him protection.

He said the firing of tear-gas ensued when people around tried to question the rationale for the performance of another rite by the rival occupant of the stool.

The youth in the area consequently vent their spleen on the police by hurling stones and other missiles at the police anti-riot vehicle.
The irate crowd went on to vandalise the palace apparently to register their anger over the occupancy of the palace by people believed to be loyal to Nii Okaidja.

Journalists covering the event had to run for cover in the midst of the confusion.

As the police left the palace, crowds of people gathered around in groups discussing the issue.

The palace area was strewn with stones, pieces of blocks, and rubber bullets and canisters.

Reginald Nii Ayibonte, a royal of the Gbese stool and former Member of Parliament for Odododiodoo constituency, showed to the Times documents supposedly affirming the legitimacy of Nii Ayibonte as the Gbese Mantse.

He questioned why there should be another chairman to the stool when all the court rulings were in favour of Nii Ayibonte adding "we are in a rule of law, why do people want to circumvent the ruling of the highest court of the land."

Nii Okaidja was installed Gbese Mantse last October, having left his job as a presiding Justice of the city of West Minister courts, London.
Nii Ayibonte, known in private life as Thomas Okine former Chief Executive of Accra Hearts of Oak, was installed on April 28.