/ 4 January 2008

Kenya police deploy to block rally

Huge numbers of Kenyan police deployed on Friday to block an opposition rally in Nairobi as Washington sent its top Africa diplomat to help resolve a post-election crisis that has claimed more then 350 lives.

With re-elected President Mwai Kibaki and his defeated challenger, Raila Odinga, still at loggerheads over December 27 polls marred by vote-rigging allegations, United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer will attempt to broker a solution where other efforts have failed.

Frazer was not expected to start her meetings before Saturday and Kenyan police remained on high alert amid opposition plans for mass rallies to denounce the poll results and push Odinga to power.

On Thursday, police had used water cannon and tear gas to disperse Odinga supporters marching on the city centre for a “million-man” rally designed to declare the fiery 62-year-old the “people’s president”.

The defeated presidential candidate, who led in pre-election opinion polls, has vowed a protest a day until Kibaki concedes defeat, despite the threat of police action.

“We once again warn that we will not allow anybody to hold a rally in the city. Such meetings have been banned,” police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said.

Rioting, police raids and tribal killings have crippled the country for a week.

“We have seen so many dead kids cut with pangas [machetes], we have seen bodies that have been decimated by fire,” Odinga said at City Mortuary after European envoys visited city slums to probe claims of police brutality.

According to a tally compiled by Agence France-Presse with police officials, medical sources and mortuary attendants, more than 350 people have died in election-related violence since polling day.

Following appeals for restraint from the international community, the Kenyan press and religious groups, the clashes have fallen off over the past two days.

Kibaki has called for consultations between the country’s parties but Odinga has demanded an international mediator.

‘Political crisis’

US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Frazer would “meet with both of the political leaders as well as others in Kenyan civil society to see what ideas they might generate in order to find a way out of this political crisis.”

International mediation efforts have been slow to take off, with the US initially congratulating Kibaki on his re-election before back-pedalling and expressing concern over growing evidence of rigging.

A proposed joint mediation by the African Union and Commonwealth fizzled out on Thursday, with one envoy indefinitely postponing his trip to Kenya and the other leaving the country.

South Africa’s Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, who is in Nairobi, managed a meeting with Kibaki on Friday, but there was no indication whether he had succeeded in his bid to bring the feuding leaders together.

Kibaki on Friday met Tutu, an official said. The agenda of the meeting at Kibaki’s official residence in Nairobi remained unclear as the government had initially rejected foreign mediation attempts and stated that Tutu had not been invited.

Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako called on Thursday for a probe into the vote results, which even the chairperson of the electoral board admitted were flawed.

A police official also said that an opposition politician was being investigated for arming and inciting gangs who torched a church in western Kenya in which 35 people, mainly women and children, perished on Tuesday.

The church was in Eldoret, a town which has seen some of the worst violence over the past week. There are concerns that many killings in rural areas have gone unreported.

Many members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe have fled to neighbouring Uganda.

The Kenyan Red Cross has estimated at 100 000 the number of people displaced by ethnic violence.

The unrest has prompted many foreign tour operators to suspend trips to Kenya, depriving the country of a major source of revenue, but the government insisted that foreign tourists were safe.

The International Monetary Fund noted “with concern” that supply disruptions emanating from the developments in Kenya were affecting other countries in the region. — AFP