More than 100 Kenyans dead in protests over election

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 31, 2007 

NAIROBI, Kenya — Heavily armed police clashed with opposition supporters in slums and towns across this East African nation Monday, leaving more than 100 people dead in the aftermath of a bitterly disputed presidential election.

A day after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki claimed victory in the closest vote in Kenya's history — and had himself sworn in within the hour — mobs of angry youths overturned cars, lit bonfires, hurled stones and beat people bloody in the tin-roofed shantytowns of Nairobi, the capital.

Paramilitary units and police in riot gear fired live rounds and tear gas on crowds in Nairobi, according to witnesses. Clashes also were reported in the coastal town of Mombasa and in western Kenya, where television images showed scores of burned homes and looters laying siege to businesses.

Local news reports, citing body counts at mortuaries, said 124 people had been killed overnight nationwide, the worst spasm of violence in this usually peaceful nation in recent memory.

The presidential challenger, Raila Odinga, postponed a massive rally in central Nairobi after police blocked off all avenues to the site. Odinga, a fiery-tongued former political prisoner who'd led the pre-election polls, urged his supporters to protest peacefully but continued to demand that Kibaki step down.

"I am the elected president of the Republic of Kenya," Odinga said.

The Bush administration withheld recognition of Kibaki.

The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, said Monday that he was "concerned by serious problems experienced during the vote-counting process."

"These included various anomalies with respect to unrealistically high voter-turnout rates — close to 100 percent in some constituencies — discrepancies in the numbers of votes reported for the respective candidates, apparent manipulation of some election-reporting documents and long delays in reporting results," Ranneberger said.

It has been a devastating turn of events for Kenya — which had been seen as the most stable democracy in East Africa, a land of gleaming high rises and gorgeous game reserves — and for Kibaki. The grandfatherly economist, 76, won a landslide election victory five years ago and has presided over a macroeconomic boom, but has faced mounting frustration over endemic poverty and corruption.

Final results announced Sunday by Kenya's election commission — a nominally independent body dominated by Kibaki loyalists — gave Kibaki a slim edge of 231,728 votes over Odinga, a total of 47 percent to 44 percent. Within an hour, state television showed Kibaki taking the oath of office for a second term.

But Odinga's campaign said it had evidence of vote-rigging in 48 of Kenya's 210 electoral constituencies. There were long, unexplained delays in the reporting of results from Kibaki strongholds in the central Mount Kenya region, and independent election observers voiced concern at how swiftly the election commission certified the results.

Kibaki's campaign has accused the opposition of stealing votes as well. But Odinga's claims of fraud were bolstered by his party's overwhelming showing in parliamentary races: It was well ahead, having won 95 seats so far in the 210-seat parliament, compared with 36 for Kibaki's party.

Kibaki appealed to Kenyans to remain calm. But after a campaign that had been marked by tribal divisions — between Kibaki's Kikuyu group, the largest in Kenya at about 22 percent of the population, and a collection of smaller groups led by Odinga's Luo tribe — there were widespread reports of tribal-based violence.

In Huruma, a rough-and-tumble section of Nairobi, groups of Luo youths roamed the streets late Sunday, demanding that people produce identity cards showing their names and birthplaces, which give clues as to their tribes.

"If you were Kikuyu, or you hesitated, they beat you," said Joseph Kinyua, a Kikuyu resident in his mid-20s.

Hours later, Kinyua said, members of the Mungiki — a shadowy, well-armed Kikuyu gang — showed up in Huruma and the Luo mob dispersed.

Over the protests of international press-freedom groups, the government banned live news broadcasts Sunday evening, citing "the security of the state."

As clashes ignited throughout the country, broadcasters were put in the surreal position of airing reruns of programs such as "E.R." But by Monday, stations were airing footage captured on videotape across Kenya.

(Kilongi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Bengali reported from Madrid, Spain.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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