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Kenyan police battle opposition supporters as death toll rises; opposition calls off rally

Kenyan police battle opposition supporters as death toll rises; opposition calls off rally

Kenyan police battled thousands of opposition supporters enraged over President Mwai Kibaki's allegedly fraudulent re-election, firing tear gas and live ammunition as the death toll from the violence rose to 125, officials and witnesses said.
Three police officers said they had orders to shoot to kill, while opposition supporters said they would risk death to protest what they called a stolen election.
The vote also ignited smoldering resentment between Kenya's two largest tribes, with supporters of Raila Odinga, a Luo who officially came in second, clashing with members of Kibaki's Kikuyu. The head of Kenya's Red Cross said many of the dead were killed in ethnic violence across the country.
In Nairobi's burning slums, demonstrators were beaten back with tear gas and water cannons, and police fired live rounds over their heads.
Alex Busisa, 22, said police shot him and a friend after he walked out his home near a demonstration. He spoke from a hospital bed after an operation for a gunshot wound to the stomach.
While politicians "could afford a plane to fly away ... it is the man on the ground who suffers, like me," Busisa said.
Odinga compared Kibaki to a military dictator who "seized power through the barrel of the gun," and postponed a rally planned for Uhuru Park Monday after police warned the opposition not to hold it. Odinga instead called on 1 million people to gather Thursday in Nairobi's Uhuru Park _ where protesters had demanded multiparty democracy in the early 1990s.
"We will inform police of the march. We will march wearing black arm bands because we are mourning," said Odinga, a fiery figure who had been leading early results and public opinion polls.
Kibaki vowed to step up security across the country to "deal decisively with those who breach the peace."
Early on Monday, opposition supporters blocked a road into Nairobi's city center with burning refuse and tried to set a gas station alight, and thousands struggling to break out of the slums surged back and forth under clouds of tear gas and baton charges all day. An Associated Press reporter saw a man who had been shot in the head being carried out in a blanket. Men around him said he had been shot by police. Police were not immediately available for comment.
Within Kibera, riot police fired shots into the air and tear gas into homes and businesses.
Panicked residents called journalists to report ethnic gangs were roaming the narrow, sewage-filled alleyways of Kibera, seeking to avenge members of their tribe killed in overnight violence and setting homes on fire.
"Why are we burning these shops?" asked 26-year-old Abdi Ochieng as he watched his Luo neighbors cart away looted sheets of corrugated iron from smoldering Kikuyu businesses. "Kibaki does not own them. Neither does Odinga."
The violence has killed at least 125 people since Saturday across the country, police and witnesses said, although the tally was likely far higher. The head of the Kenyan Red Cross, Abbas Gullet, in many provinces Kikuyu homes had been attacked and families forced to seek refuge in police stations.
"They need food, water, blankets, but we cannot access them," he said. Enraged demonstrators had even demanded to know the ethnicity of Red Cross workers offering first aid to the wounded, he said.
Kibaki, 76, was sworn in almost immediately after the results were announced. Within minutes, the slums exploded into fresh violence.
Suspicions over rigging were fueled by the fact that the opposition took most of the parliamentary seats in Thursday's vote, but Kibaki still won the election. A ban on live media broadcasts and partial suspension of the news has helped wild rumors to flourish, spread by text message and shouted from neighbor to neighbor across barbed wire fences and winding alleys.
Echoing previous statements by the European Union, the United States said on Monday it was concerned over "serious problems" during the counting of votes.
Kenya is one of the most developed countries in Africa, with a booming tourism industry and one of the continent's highest growth rates. Many observers saw the campaign as the greatest test of this young, multiparty democracy and expressed great disappointment as the process descended into chaos.
Kibaki's supporters say he has turned Kenya's economy into an east African powerhouse, with an average annual growth rate of 5 percent. He won by a landslide in 2002, ending 24 years in power by the notoriously corrupt Daniel arap Moi. But Kibaki's anti-graft campaign has largely been seen as a failure, and the elections have reopened festering resentment over tribalism and widespread poverty.
Kibaki's Kikuyu comprise the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and are frequently accused by other tribes of monopolizing business and political power.
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Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Tom Maliti and Malkhadir M. Muhumed contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-20 16:42 GMT+08:00