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Kenya gangs seek to avenge lawmaker's death

Gunmen killed an opposition lawmaker in Nairobi and government helicopters fired on crowds in the Rift Valley on Tuesday, the latest flare-up of the ethnic fighting that has gripped Kenya since its disputed presidential election.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gunmen killed an opposition lawmaker in Nairobi and government helicopters fired on crowds in the Rift Valley on Tuesday, the latest ethnic fighting that has gripped Kenya since its disputed presidential election.

Under increasing pressure to share power, President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, formally opened negotiations but the two remained far apart on the outcome of December's vote — an issue each indicates is not negotiable.

Odinga insisted what needed "the most urgent attention" was the resolution of the flawed election results. Kibaki deplored the fact that some Kenyans "have been incited to hate one another and view each other as enemies."

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is helping mediate the dispute and Tuesday's meeting.

'The people need you'
"The people need you," he told them. "They want you to take charge of the situation and do whatever possible to prevent the downward slide into chaos that is threatening this country."

Mugabe Were, who was shot to death as he drove home, was among a slew of opposition members who won seats in the legislative vote held at the same time as the presidential election. The opposition, which won the most seats in parliament, accuses Kibaki of stealing the presidential vote.

After Were's death, groups of armed youths began gathering in two Nairobi slums. Sabat Abdullah, a slum resident, said a gang hefting machetes dragged a doctor from the president's Kikuyu tribe from his clinic "and then cut and cut until his head was off."

Similar scenes have convulsed western Kenya, where police in helicopters fired on crowds on Tuesday. Since the Dec. 27 election, the death toll across a country once among the most stable in Africa has soared to over 800. Much of the violence has pitted other tribes against Kikuyu, long resented for their dominance of Kenyan politics and business.

Obama appeals for peace
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential hopeful whose father was Kenyan, appealed for peace on Nairobi's Capital FM radio station.

"Now is the time for all parties to renounce violence. Now is the time for Kenyan leaders to rise above party affiliations and past ambitions for the sake of peace," Obama said. "Most troubling are new indications that the violence is being organized, planned and coordinated."

In Washington, the State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the ongoing violence underscored the importance of negotiations.

"This is a political dispute and it requires a political solution. The two leaders have to come to some agreement on how that is done," Casey said.

Police said Were's death was being treated "as a murder but we are not ruling out anything, including political motives."

"We suspect the foul hands of our adversaries," Odinga said as he made his way Tuesday to Were's home, where dozens of protesters manned burning barricades of tires and uprooted telephone posts.

Kibaki condemned the killing, appealed for calm and promised police would act swiftly to ensure the perpetrators were dealt with severely.

In the Mathare slum, armed Luo men at a roadblock dragged a Kikuyu man from his car and attacked him with machetes, volunteer aid worker Fospeter Ouma said. "They slashed him so much. I think he must have died," he said.

Angry supporters of Were in the slum area of Dandora, the murdered politician's constituency, set fire to homes and shops owned by Kikuyus and brandished axes and machetes.

Police fired tear gas, and later live bullets, to disperse them, and beat them with clubs. An AP Television cameraman saw a policeman pursue protesters down a mud road, shooting at them with a pistol.

Homes set on fire
In Western Kenya's Rift Valley, about 5,000 people set fire to homes and smashed shop windows in Naivasha, dragging away goods. Five police officers fired into the air but were unable to control the turmoil. Naivasha's police chief tried to calm the crowd but was pelted with stones and fled in his car.

A police helicopter and two military helicopters then flew over the crowd and officers began shooting, sending people running in panic. A reporter saw two bodies with bullet wounds, but it was unclear whether they were shot by officers in the air or on the ground.

Reporters also watched the helicopters swoop down, with officers firing on a mob of armed Kikuyus pinning down hundreds of Luos outside the Naivasha Country Club. Kikuyus, armed with machetes and clubs inset with nails, had prevented the Luos from escaping for two days.

On Tuesday, police began evacuating them, and police chief Grace Kakai said the helicopters helped.

"There were very big crowds gathering and we had to disperse them so we used helicopter patrols. They were not firing at the crowd. We were trying to scare them, not hurt them," she said. Some 300 Luos were evacuated, she said.

The Rift Valley has seen some of the worst of the postelection violence. At least 90 people were killed there over the weekend.

Kibaki and Odinga blame each other for the violence, which has driven 255,000 people from their homes. The two men have traded accusations of "ethnic cleansing." Human rights groups and officials charge the violence has become organized.