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Kenya opposition seeks new vote after violence

Kenya's opposition party called for a new presidential election Friday to settle a disputed vote that has sparked days of deadly riots. Peace Corps workers in western Kenya were being evacuated.
Image: A man who had one of his hands chopped of with a machete sit in a wheelchair at the hospital in the town of Burnt Forest, some 35 kilometers from Eldoret, Kenya.
A man who had one of his hands chopped off with a machete during violence that swept Kenya sits at the hospital in the town of Burnt Forest near Eldoret on Friday.Riccardo Gangale / AP
/ Source: news services

Kenya’s opposition party demanded a new presidential election to settle a dispute over the vote that has sparked days of deadly riots, and police hurled tear gas to scatter more than 1,000 protesters in the coastal city of Mombasa Friday.

A spokesman for President Mwai Kibaki said there would only be a rerun of the Dec. 27 election if a court orders it. Kenya's high court, which can annul the vote and force a new one, was largely appointed by Kibaki.

"The government doesn't reject or accept this. Only the court can call for the rerun of the election," said Alfred Mutua.

The United States and Europe were among those pushing for reconciliation, but said a “made-in-Kenya solution” is needed to end the violence that has killed 300 people and displaced 100,000 in what was once lauded as among the most stable democracies in Africa.

Peace Corps volunteers in western Kenya were being evacuated from their posts because of the violence, the agency and the State Department said Friday.

About 35 Peace Corps workers stationed in Kenya's three westernmost provinces that have been hardest hit by the clashes were being temporarily moved to Tanzania, they said.

Mass protest in Nairobi fizzles
The upheaval has spread from the capital to the coast and the western highlands. In Mombasa, a city heavily dependent on tourism, police scattered 1,500 protesters who were shouting “Kibaki has stolen our vote!” There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Nairobi, Odinga 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 Mombasa, food shortages caused price rises, with the cost of a loaf of bread more than doubling to $1, 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," he said.

‘Let people die’
In Kibera, the country’s largest slum, shops remained shut Friday and small groups of protesters gathered on street corners.

“Let people die and then there will be a change,” said Joshua Okoth, standing with a group of young men by the smoking remains of a Kibera food market.

Ruth Otieno, who lives in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, said Friday about 60 houses were burned down in Mathare overnight, displacing scores of families.

The violent images — of burning buildings, machete-wielding gangs, looters making off with gasoline — are heartbreakingly common in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan, but until now not in Kenya.

In some areas, the political dispute has degenerated into violence pitting Kibaki’s influential Kikuyus against Odinga’s Luos and other tribes.

International observers say ballot counting after the Dec. 27 vote that returned Kibaki to power was flawed.

Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, said the country should ready “for a new election of the president.” With the call, the opposition appeared to leave little room for compromise with Kibaki, leaving the political deadlock to grind on.

“This is about a democracy and justice,” Nyongo said. “We shall continue to defend and promote the right of Kenyans so that the democratic process should be fulfilled.”

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

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

U.S. sends top diplomat
The leading U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, was traveling to Kenya for meetings Saturday, said 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. Frazer would not serve as a mediator, but would try to encourage the leaders to talk, McCormack said.

He declined to comment specifically on the opposition call for a new election but said such homegrown ideas would be key to resolving the crisis.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Friday that the Kenyan elections "were totally rigged."

Kouchner, speaking on France's RTL radio, did not say what evidence he had for that conclusion, but said it was shared by "the Americans, the British, who know the country well."

In Britain, the former colonial power in Kenya, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement Friday that given the "serious questions about the conduct of the count," Kenya's leaders should consider sharing power.

"The basis for the country to move forward is political compromise which recognizes the divided nature of the electoral vote and establishes a basis for politicians of different parties to work together in a way that reflects the will of the Kenyan people," Miliband said. "The sharing of political power is the way to build bridges across serious divides."

Suspension of aid threatened
Germany's development minister suggested that EU aid to Kenya could be frozen if Kenyan officials spurn international offers of mediation.

Attorney General Amos Wako called Thursday for an independent investigation of the vote counting. The call from Wako, who is considered close to Kibaki, was a surprise and could reflect the seriousness of the rigging allegations.

But a spokesman for Odinga, Salim Lone, rejected the suggestion, saying his party had "no faith in any government institution."

Businesses have lost millions of dollars and the country's vitally important tourism industry suffered as British tour operators canceled planned vacations.

The World Bank issued a statement saying the unrest “threatens impressive recent gains in economic growth and poverty reduction” in a country with a billion-dollar tourism industry and a gross domestic product growth rate of 7 percent.

Violence has displaced thousands of people, many of forced out of burned homes.

"I lost my job working as house help after my Asian employers fled abroad following the riots," said Sarah Wanyama, 26. "My husband lost his job yesterday after his place of work was vandalized."

She said she had moved their two children to a "safer place" but none had eaten all day and they had no money.