NAIROBI, Kenya -- In an unusually blunt statement released Friday amid continuing turmoil and tension in this East African nation, the Roman Catholic cardinal and Kenya's 18 Catholic bishops said the government had lost its right to rule and suggested that it resign.
The church hierarchy's warning increases pressure on President Daniel T. arap Moi, whom the clerics severely criticized three weeks ago, blaming him and his officials for repeated episodes of ethnic strife.
In their new statement, the clerics said that the government was turning a blind eye to "trained warriors" responsible for the violence.
They acted after two days of riots in the port of Mombasa that were set off by the arrest of an Islamic cleric. The arrest inflamed passions there, with the police storming a mosque in pursuit of the rioters. In Nairobi, two people were shot by police early this week when stampeding broke out at a bus terminal.
The incidents in both cities kept tension high after waves of ethnic fighting in rural areas appeared to have subsided during the last 10 days.
This fighting has for the most part involved well-organized members and armed members of the minority Kalenjin tribe against largely defenseless members of other, bigger ethnic groups.
Mr. Moi and his close political associates are Kalenjin. Many Kenyans believe that elements of the ruling elite have organized Kalenjin warriors as a way of discrediting the multiparty political process that the president agreed to in December, after intense pressure from international lenders.
The Roman Catholic Church here, as well as other religious and opposition groups and diplomats, estimate that more than 1,000 people have died in clashes since October. The authorities say slightly more than 200 have died.
In their statement, read at a news conference on Friday, Cardinal Maurice Otunga and the bishops said, "The government has no legitimate claim to remain in power and should consider the good of the people as their first consideration."