Kibaki accuses rivals of 'ethnic cleansing'

President Mwai Kibaki’s government accused rival Raila Odinga’s backers on Wednesday of responsibility for an explosion of tribal violence over a disputed presidential poll that has plunged Kenya into turmoil.

“Supporters of Raila Odinga are involved in ethnic cleansing,” said spokesperson Alfred Mutua as the death toll from four days of clashes claimed about 300 lives. “We don’t want this to tarnish Odinga, to be seen to be conducting ethnic cleansing.”

Odinga’s supporters, drawn mainly from his Luo tribe, have made similar charges against Kibaki, whose Kikuyu have dominated political and business life in East Africa’s biggest economy.

Western powers have called for calm and Britain has urged the African Union and Commonwealth to try to reconcile Kibaki and Odinga, whose parties accuse each other of vote-rigging during the December 27 election.

“There are independent reports of serious irregularities in the counting process,” said British Foreign Minister David Miliband and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a joint statement. They called for an end to violence and “an intensive political and legal process” to end the crisis.

As young men armed with machetes manned roadblocks in rural areas, a trickle of office workers in the capital, Nairobi, made it through police cordons to begin the new working year.

“They call this democracy,” said a central bank worker, delayed by police as he tried to get to work.

“They should stop instilling fear in us and let us go back to our work,” he said, asking not to be named.

The turmoil caused delays and confusion in local markets.

Currency trading was postponed for several hours, stocks opened a few minutes late, and both tea and coffee auctions were being postponed.
“If some normality comes back, we will resuscitate the business,” a tea broker told Reuters.

On Tuesday, about 30 Kikuyus died when a mob set fire to a church where they had taken sanctuary in the western town of Eldoret—reviving memories of the slaughter in churches of hundreds of thousands in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

The Eldoret attack was one the worst episodes of violence that has uprooted nearly 100 000 Kenyans, many of them fleeing across the border to Uganda. It sparked reprisal attacks.

Adding to the chaos, Kenya’s electoral commission head, Samuel Kivuitu, was quoted as saying: “I do not know whether Kibaki won the election.” The comment by Kivuitu, who pronounced Kibaki the victor on Sunday, could not be immediately verified.

Western powers have warned their citizens against visiting a popular tourist destination that was regarded as one of the most stable democracies on a volatile continent.

African Union chairperson John Kufuor was due in Kenya on Wednesday to try to start mediation, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on the phone to both sides.

‘Madness’

Pictures of the Eldoret area from air showed plumes of white smoke billowing blazing homesteads. Youths with machetes, rocks and bows and arrows could be seen manning crude checkpoints.

There was early calm in Nairobi slums on Wednesday but residents said Mungiki, a gang with roots in traditional Kikuyu rites, dropped leaflets warning of reprisals against Luos.

In Naivasha town in Kenya’s Rift Valley, scores of people were injured in revenge attacks for the church killings, and about 300 terrified locals spent the night camped at a police station and prison for safety.

“We had to seek refuge in the only safe place we know,” said Agnes Alouch, in the prison hall.

Kibaki was sworn in on Sunday after official election results showed he had narrowly beaten Odinga. The EU’s observer mission said the poll had “fallen short of key international and regional standards for democratic elections”.

The US first congratulated Kibaki, then switched to expressing “concerns about irregularities”.

In remarks in the Standard newspaper, Kivuitu said he was pressured by Odinga and Kibaki’s party colleagues to announce the poll results immediately. Four members of Kivuitu’s team have said they would call for a judicial review.

“I will continue to demand that the fraudulently announced presidential results be rescinded,” Raila repeated on Tuesday.

“Until they are, Kenyans will continue to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to stage peaceful protests to rectify this crime.”—Reuters

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