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23 April 2024

Kenya opposition seeks new vote

By Agencies


Kenya's president will accept opposition calls for a rerun of a disputed election he says he won only if a court orders it, according to a spokesman, and thousands in the capital's sprawling slums lined up for aid (pictured above) after days of deadly riots had left them cut off from food and water.

Some 300 people have been killed and 100,000 made homeless in violent protests and clashes since the December 27 vote and weekend vote counting foreign observers say was flawed. The turbulence has taken an ugly ethnic twist, with other tribes pitted against President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu people, and brought chaos to a country once considered an island of stability in violence-plagued East Africa.

In Nairobi, opposition leader Raila Odinga's supporters vowed that street protests would continue Friday, but none materialized. Instead, armed soldiers with riot shields patrolled.

Fred Nguli, 24, said he was simply too hungry to march.

"As these rallies continue we are suffering because we are all casual laborers," he said. "You need food for energy to work or even demonstrate."

In sprawling Kibera slum, shops remained shut and small groups of protesters gathered on street corners Friday. Red Cross workers came to distribute corn meal but drove off in fear when thousands of people gathered and became unruly.

Some feared civil war would erupt.

"I am leaving because I am actually afraid," Kenyan Brendan Simps said at Nairobi airport. He said he was going to Liberia, the West African nation struggling to recover from decades of civil war.

"I was in Liberia during the war and it started like this, so I don't want to take chances," Simps said.

Trouble has spread from Nairobi, the capital, to the western highlands and to the coast. In the coastal tourist city of Mombasa Friday, police hurled tear gas to scatter more than 1,000 protesters.

"Kibaki has stolen our vote! No Raila, no peace!" protesters in Mombasa shouted.

Food shortages in Mombasa caused prices to rise. The cost of a loaf of bread more than doubled to 70 shillings (about US$1; Dh3.65), said Michael Musembi, who sells wood carvings.

"There is no kerosene to light lamps with. To travel round town is difficult because transporters have raised fares. In all, prices have increased because of these demonstrations," Musembi said, calling on the politicians to "talk to each other and find a solution so that we can get on with our lives."

On Friday, Raila's party demanded new presidential elections.

"This is about a democracy and justice," said Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. "We shall continue to defend and promote the right of Kenyans so that the democratic process should be fulfilled."

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press, "the government doesn't reject or accept this. Only the court can call for the rerun of the election."

Kenya's high court, its members largely appointed by Kibaki, could annul the vote as illegal, which would force a new vote.

South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu held talks Friday with Kibaki and with Odinga on Thursday, and said both "indicated they are open to the possibilities of negotiations."

"There is a great deal of hope," Tutu said.

The leading US diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, was to start meetings on Saturday in Kenya, according to US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"She's meeting with Mr. Odinga and we have requested a meeting with President Kibaki. I see no reason why that won't happen," McCormack told reporters, adding that Frazer's mission is designed to complement other international efforts to encourage a peaceful resolution. (AP)