Kenya president declares victory as unrest grows

Challenger rejects result

observers report evidence of irregularities

December 31, 2007|By Nicholas Soi and Robyn Dixon | Nicholas Soi and Robyn Dixon,Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya -- President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner yesterday of Kenya's presidential election and hastily sworn in, defying widespread concern over vote irregularities and sparking riots and tribal violence.

As smoke rose over parts of Nairobi, Kenya's emerging democracy also appeared to be smoldering. Before the chaotic election count - which saw some returns officers disappear and European Union observers turned away without access to tallies - analysts and diplomats had viewed Kenya as one of the most promising democracies in Africa.

But the politics of the "Big Man" still holds sway in many parts of Africa, with only a few cases of incumbent presidents losing power through the ballot box.

After Kibaki, 76, was sworn in for another five-year term, his main challenger, opposition leader Raila Odinga, said a ruling clique was trying to rob Kenya of its democracy.

Odinga, 62, said he would be sworn in as "people's president" in his own ceremony today, and he outlined plans for a parallel government. As he spoke, live television transmissions were abruptly cut.

There were reports of violence across the country. In Kibera, a Nairobi slum area and opposition stronghold, thousands of protesters armed with rocks, knives and machetes chanted, "No peace!"

Rampaging mobs burned shacks and kiosks, and beat people up. Panic-stricken people fled the area, shouting that gangs of youths were stoning cars, and attacking people and robbing them. Police fired tear gas and live bullets to try to disperse the protesters.

But in Kibaki's strongholds, his supporters danced and sang.

The violence ran along tribal lines, as opposition supporters from the Luo tribe attacked those from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. Local news media reported at least 13 people died, including several protesters shot by police. At least 70 had died in earlier election-related violence.

According to the official result, Kibaki received 4,584,721 votes and Odinga had 4,352,993. Odinga was well ahead in counting Friday, but Saturday saw the tally steadily tilt in Kibaki's favor, triggering riots in cities across Kenya.

"Kenyans will not accept the results of a rigged election," Odinga, the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement, had declared earlier yesterday. "No force will stop Kenyans attaining what they want." He said his party's figures indicated that the vote had been rigged by 300,000 votes.

The parliamentary vote, also held Thursday, had shown a major repudiation of the government. Twenty government ministers lost their seats.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the chief of the EU election observers, reported evidence of irregularities.

"We regret that it has not been possible to address irregularities about which both the Election Observation Mission and the Electoral Commission of Kenya have evidence," he said in a statement yesterday, adding that "some doubt remains as to the accuracy of the result of the presidential election as announced today."

Michael Mulama, 47, a welder from Nairobi, said he was dismayed and puzzled by the result. "Why has Mzee done this?" he said, using a Kenyan nickname for Kibaki, meaning wise old man. "Is the government happy when people are dying? This is really bad."

But at the swearing-in ceremony, just an hour after the result was announced, Kibaki insisted that the election was free and fair, and he called for reconciliation and healing.

"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.

Nicholas Soi and Robyn Dixon write for the Los Angeles Times.

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