NAIROBI, Kenya — Opposition leader Raila Odinga accused Kenyan police of killing seven civilians Thursday as government forces intensified their crackdown on protests against the country's disputed presidential election.
At the midpoint of a three-day call for mass action, police kept a lid on parts of the capital city where anti-government protesters were expected to demonstrate against President Mwai Kibaki's re-election, which local and international observers have said was flawed.
For a second day, however, crowds of protesters remained small. Opposition supporters seemed too scared to confront police — who've banned the rallies on security grounds — or too exhausted to continue protesting.
There were scattered reports of more clashes in Kisumu, as well as in the central town of Eldoret. But most of Kenya was calm ahead of the final day of protests Friday.
It's unclear what opposition leaders are planning next, although Odinga has suggested labor strikes or boycotts of companies owned by top government officials. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the next international mediator to attempt to bring Kibaki and Odinga together for talks, has fallen ill and isn't expected to arrive for a few more days.
Strikes could take an additional toll on Kenya's economy, which already lost $1 billion in the first 10 days of the year, according to the finance ministry.
Targeting the economy "is their only weapon," said a senior Western envoy of the opposition, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic protocol. "They've lost the street."
Indeed, many Kenyans appear to have lost patience with both sides. In an e-mail making the rounds in Nairobi, a writer dubbed "Save Kenya" lamented: "Neither party cares about the people. (The opposition) is inciting protests while they sit and hide away in their luxurious houses and big cars. The government doesn't reassure the people. The economy is coming to a standstill, thousands are already jobless."
In Nairobi's slums, groups of unruly young men erected roadblocks again Thursday and fired rocks with slingshots. They had few other weapons, and opposition leaders and human rights groups charged that government forces were using excessive force against unarmed civilians.
A day after television cameras filmed a police officer in the western town of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, fatally shooting a man and then kicking him, opposition leaders said that police gunned down seven people in Nairobi's rough Mathare neighborhood.
"The government has issued its police force with a shoot to kill order," Odinga said. "And police officers all over the country have followed that order to the letter."
Government officials have denied giving such an order, and a police spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, said that police were targeting looters. Kiraithe told the Daily Nation newspaper that the unarmed man who was gunned down in Kisumu had been part of a mob that attacked police officers.
But police weren't taking any chances, and in a theatrical show of force, dozens of paramilitary officers fanned out in Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, where a few young men had been slinging rocks and taunting police all afternoon. Trailed by a gaggle of foreign journalists, the paramilitaries pounded on tin doors with sticks and manhandled a few young men before letting them go, sending residents scurrying deep into Kibera's fetid alleyways.
In one mud-walled shack, police found a young man in a black T-shirt who immediately put his hands in the air. One of the police struck him twice with a long wooden stick and yelled in Swahili: "What are you doing here?"
"I live here," the young man squealed.
"Get out now!" another officer barked. He struck the man again before the police seemed to lose interest and moved on to another collection of shacks.