NAIROBI, Kenya — Helmeted riot police fired tear gas in downtown Nairobi Wednesday to disperse opposition supporters on the first of three days of nationwide rallies to protest last month's disputed election.
One man was killed in the western town of Kisumu, the Daily Nation newspaper reported on its Web site, and in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, at least three people were reportedly hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Youths burned tires, erected roadblocks and chanted pro-opposition slogans in pockets of Nairobi, but it was a normal day in the vast majority of the city. While Kenyan authorities have banned further rallies on security grounds, opposition leaders pledged to continue with a second day of protests on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a leading British expert on Kenya told a Washington audience that opposition leader Raila Odinga would have won the election handily had the count not been rigged by backers of President Mwai Kibaki. David Throup, who's been studying Kenyan elections for the past 20 years, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that both sides had padded the vote, but that Kibaki's ballot stuffing exceeded Odinga's by nearly two to one and wiped out the opposition leader's victory.
It's been less than three weeks since Kibaki claimed re-election in a vote that the opposition — and many international observers — says he stole. But enthusiasm for the protests appeared to be ebbing as the only people preparing to march on downtown Nairobi's Uhuru Park by mid-afternoon appeared to be top opposition politicians and their aides.
The politicians and their backers had come prepared to march, dressed in casual clothes and running shoes. But after a few abortive attempts to gain access to the park — which was guarded by stick-wielding paramilitaries — a handful of opposition leaders retreated to the leafy grounds of a five-star hotel at the park's edge, where they pressed their case with a collection of foreign journalists.
"It is the right of Kenyans to protest peacefully against an illegitimate government," said opposition leader Musalia Mudavadi.
On Tuesday the opposition won a significant political victory, securing the post of parliamentary speaker after three rounds of voting that demonstrated it holds a legislative majority by one or two votes. With that majority, the opposition can block funding of key government ministries and slow down Kibaki's agenda, but it's not clear how long its slim majority can hold.
Odinga said that he would continue to call for Kibaki to step down in talks expected with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the coming days. Annan, the latest luminary to attempt to mediate in Kenya's political crisis, has been forced to delay his trip to Kenya by a few days due to a severe case of the flu.
The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, said Wednesday that both Kibaki and Odinga have privately told U.S. diplomats that they're willing to talk.
Kibaki has only one precondition — he won't step down, Ranneberger said via telephone from Nairobi to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist think-tank in Washington.
The Bush administration declared last weekend that it wouldn't conduct "business as usual" with the Kenyan government. But Ranneberger cautioned that that didn't mean U.S. sanctions on the Kibaki government, saying the "sole focus" of U.S. policy is to craft a political solution to the crisis.
Throup, a former British government official, told the same forum that Odinga would have won the election by about 120,000 votes in a fair count.
Throup, who has studied Kenyan elections for more than 20 years, said Kibaki's supporters padded their vote total by 800,000; Odinga's by 450,000. The 350,000-vote difference erased Odinga's victory and allowed Kibaki to claim a 230,000-vote victory, said Throup, who presented a detailed analysis of election returns.
"Was it rigged? The answer is yes," Throup said. "But not by as much as you think. And it was rigged by both sides."
(Warren P. Strobel contributed from Washington.)