/ 31 December 2007

Defeated Kenyan challenger cries foul

Defeated opposition candidate Raila Odinga is set to press his claims of vote fraud on Monday at a Nairobi rally to declare him Kenya’s ”People’s President” despite threats of arrest.

Mwai Kibaki was sworn in for a second term as Kenyan president on Sunday after being officially declared the winner, but was quickly forced to order a media blackout as allegations of vote-rigging fuelled widespread riots.

Police shot dead seven people as furious opposition supporters went on the rampage in major cities, bringing to 20 the number of people to have died in poll-related violence since Thursday’s election.

Odinga, a flamboyant 62-year-old former political prisoner who led pre-election polls, flatly rejected the result, which had been delayed several times, and called on his supporters to turn out at Monday’s rally.

EU monitors questioned the credibility of the vote count, which saw Kibaki overtake his rival’s early lead, despite many of his government’s ministers losing their seats in parliamentary elections also held on Thursday.

Kibaki called for a ”national healing” process as he was sworn in at State House within hours of his victory being announced.

”I urge all of us to set aside the passions that were excited by the election process, and work together as one people with the single purpose of building a strong, united, prosperous and equitable country,” he said.

But the conciliatory tone of the 76-year-old’s victory speech fell on deaf ears as supporters of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) rioted in a Nairobi slum and his heartlands in the west.

”There is chaos here and we are struggling to contain the situation,” said Peter Kavila, the police commander for western Kenya.

Fires were also set in the port city of Mombasa where police said they were involved in running battles with protestors.

‘Legitimate president’

Odinga’s party showed no sign of conceding the election.

”We know that the people of Kenya elected Raila Amolo Odinga as their legitimate president and they are ready to see him serve democratically in the capacity,” said an ODM statement urging supporters to turn out at Monday’s rally.

Kenyan police warned Odinga he would face arrest if he went ahead with the demonstration.

”After due consideration of the prevailing security situation, the meeting is illegal and any person who will attempt to attend this meeting will face the full force of the law,” the police commissioner’s office said.

Shortly after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the winner with 4 584 721 votes, compared with 4 352 993 for Odinga, plumes of black smoke billowed into the Nairobi sky above the sprawling Kibera slum as riot police attempted to contain mobs of angry protestors.

Odinga had warned earlier that the Kenyan people were not prepared to accept a rigged election, stoking fears of widespread unrest across the country.

The European Union’s team of election observers in Kenya said the electoral commission had failed to ensure the credibility of the presidential vote.

”We regret that it has not been possible to address irregularities about which both the EU EOM [Electoral Observation Mission] and the ECK have evidence,” chief EU observer Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said in a statement.

Former colonial ruler Britain expressed ”real concerns” at reported ”irregularities”.

But in Washington, US State Department spokesperson Rob McInturff congratulated Kibaki on his re-election and called on all sides to accept the results despite the fraud allegations.

Kibaki became the country’s third president in 2002, ironically with the help of Odinga, and has presided over a period of unprecedented economic growth in the East African nation.

Odinga, who had the support of many of Kenya’s poor, had argued in his election campaign that few Kenyans had reaped the benefits of the country’s economic success. — AFP