Gunfire rocks Kenya town as death toll reaches 25

Gunfire rang out in Nakuru, Kenya, on Saturday and armed gangs manned roadblocks in the Rift Valley town where ethnic clashes have killed at least 25 people in 24 hours, witnesses said.

Paramilitary police patrolled the provincial capital, which had previously been spared post-election violence that has killed around 700 people since disputed December 27 polls.

”I have never experienced this in our country. This is bad,” said one sobbing mourner outside the mortuary, where a Reuters reporter watched 16 burnt bodies unloaded from a police truck.

A doctor at the town’s main hospital said he had recorded nine other bodies

”I just pray that our leaders end this thing quickly.”

The authorities had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the town in a bid to contain pitched battles between hundreds of tribal gangs armed with machetes, clubs and bows and arrows.

Friday’s fighting also saw the first deployment of Kenya’s military since the start of a month of bloodshed that has horrified Western powers, damaged one of Africa’s most promising economies and shattered the country’s peaceful image.

And it undermined hopes of a solution after President Mwai Kibaki met his rival Raila Odinga on Thursday in their first talks since the troubles began. Odinga says the vote was rigged.

The clashes in Nakuru pit members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe against Luos and Kalenjins who backed Odinga — and appeared to have largely caught the security forces unawares.

”The Kibaki supporters were blowing whistles to rally their people. I saw them kill someone,” said Benson Waliaula (36) a security guard at a bank in the centre of town.

”They tore his clothes off first then killed him with blows of a panga. It took him some time to die. The police were just watching. There was nothing they could do.”

Residents said many homes were torched and shops looted as large groups of youths armed with rocks, bows and arrows and homemade guns confronted each other across town.

‘Killing our people’

Witnesses said that on Friday the police mostly stayed in their barracks, apparently unsure how to contain the chaos.

National police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe rejected witness accounts that a dozen people had died on Friday, saying officers were investigating four possible killings. ”Comprehensive measures” had been taken to ensure security, he said.

”Rumours that lorry loads of criminal gangs have been transported into Nakuru from various parts of Rift Valley with a mission to commit crimes against certain communities are malicious and intended to cause unnecessary tension,” he said.

Morris Ouma, a 25-year-old trader, told Reuters he had taken part in Friday’s fighting. ”I didn’t feel good about it, but they are killing our people. What shall we do?” he asked.

”We had to push them [the Kikuyus] away to protect our land. The enemy comes, so you have to be strong. Today was serious.”

The latest wave of violence followed the first direct discussions between Kibaki and Odinga since the troubles began.

Those were brokered by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, who flew to another restive Rift Valley town, Molo, on Saturday. Kenya’s Standard newspaper said 18 people were killed there by poisoned arrows late on Thursday. Police rejected the report.

The talks between the country’s two rivals on Thursday had raised hopes of an end to turmoil that has killed hundreds and forced another 250 000 from their homes.

But those were soon dashed when Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement responded angrily to Kibaki’s description of himself as the ”duly elected” leader of Kenya.

On Friday, Odinga told Reuters he would not agree to serve as prime minister under Kibaki — an idea floated by some diplomats and local media — and he also called on the African Union not to recognise Kibaki at a planned summit in Ethiopia. – Reuters

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