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Long wait for election result in Kenya ignites violence

Long wait for election result in Kenya ignites violence

Thousands of Kenyans enraged over delays announcing the country's next president burned down homes and clashed using sticks and machetes, tainting a vote that initially was seen as a beacon of hope for democracy in Africa.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga clung onto his razor thin lead by 38,000 votes, but the electoral commission suspended announcing results for the night, promising to look into allegations of fraud.
"If they don't announce results in two hours we are going to burn this place down!" shouted 23-year-old John Odhiambo as youths armed with metal rods looted a flaming market behind him in Kenya's biggest slum.
Police said violence claimed at least three lives across Kenya on Saturday, as supporters of the rival candidates fought with police and each other. Thursday's vote pitted President Mwai Kibaki against flamboyant challenger Odinga in the country's most closely fought election since independence from Britain in 1963.
If Kibaki loses, he will be Kenya's first sitting president ousted at the ballot box.
On Saturday, both parties announced they had won the election but the electoral commission said counting was not finished. Despite pleas from both parties to announce results quickly, chairman Samuel Kivuitu said he would suspend announcing results until the morning to investigate any allegations of fraud.
Already frustrated by delays, slum dwellers quickly latched onto wild rumors of tit-for-tat ethnic killings and young men hacked apart wooden fence posts to use as weapons. In the Luo section of the slums, staggering silhouettes emerged from clouds of tear gas mixed with the acrid smoke from burning tires.
Kibaki is a Kikuyu, while Odinga is a Luo.
"Even if it means death for us, we are ready to die for the next generation," 25-year-old Kennedy Owirah said.
Across the railroad tracks in the Kikuyu areas, vigilante mobs stalked the fetid alleys armed with axes and machetes. A roar of anger went up at each new plume of black smoke, but the gangs were wary of venturing too far from their home turf. Ted Njoroje, 22, insisted that he only carried his machete for protection against rival mobs.
"I cannot let anyone just come to my place to burn it," he said, sharpening the blade against a concrete culvert. "The Luos want to burn everything."
As the violence spread to several other cities and residents of the capital boarded up their shops, Police Commissioner Hussein Ali appealed for calm, insisting, "There cannot be democracy where people think they can get recourse through hooliganism."
"Holding an election does not mean that the law has been suspended."
Hundreds of people died in election-related clashes in months leading up to the election, and several diplomats expressed concern that a narrow victory on either side could lead to rioting. But most observers said the vote itself appeared generally orderly, with no major disruptions were reported, although they declined to issue their final reports until the commission announced a winner.
But the slow pace of announcing results has led to accusations of rigging on both sides. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party said the government was deliberately delaying results because they were losing. Kibaki's Party of National Unity insist they want the results released quickly, but say they have a list of grievances they want addressed.
Kiviuti, the electoral commission chairman, acknowledged there had been problems, including a constituency where voter turnout added up to 115 percent and another where a candidate ran away with ballot papers. During a chaotic press conference, he said he had been unable to trace the polling officers who declared results in those locations but assured the media that voting in those areas would be would be reheld if necessary.
"We can't get our officers, I don't know where they are. We've asked the police to help me trace where these people are," he said. But the problems dragged out the uncertainty even longer.
In the capital, hundreds of young men marching on the commission were beaten back with riot police using tear gas.
In Kisumu, some 300 kilometers (185 miles) from Nairobi, shops were being and the streets clogged with protesters. A police officer who asked for anonymity said two banks and a supermarket were broken into.
Three people were shot dead during protests in Migori, 600 kilometers west of Nairobi, said area police chief Grace Kaindi.
By Saturday night, residents of Nairobi had stocked up on food and water before the shops shuttered and slum dwellers had begun erecting road blocks along the exits of the city's main roads.
Supporters of 76-year-old Kibaki say he has turned Kenya's moribund economy into an East African powerhouse, with an average growth rate of 5 percent and a booming tourism industry.
He won by a landslide victory in 2002, ending 24 years in power by the notoriously corrupt Daniel arap Moi, who was constitutionally barred from extending his term.
But Kibaki's anti-graft campaign has largely been seen as a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty. After the opposition took most of parliamentary seats, he may find it difficult to rule if he wins.
Odinga, a fiery 62-year-old former political prisoner, promised change and help for the poor. His main constituency is Kibera, home to at least 700,000 people who live in extreme poverty and the scene of many of Saturday's riots. In recent months he has made it a priority to reach out to the country's middle class and businessmen, many of whom are Kikuyus.
For either candidate to win he must get the most votes as well as garner at least 25 percent of votes in five of Kenya's eight provinces, a move aimed at ensuring a president has some support in most of the country and its many tribes.
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Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Tom Maliti, Tom Odula and Akmal Rajput contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-04 10:54 GMT+08:00