Kenya's death toll reaches 125 on 3rd day of post-election riots

President calls for calm, threatens tough action against protesters

January 01, 2008|By Robyn Dixon and Nicholas Soi | Robyn Dixon and Nicholas Soi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Police opened fire yesterday on rampaging opposition supporters who were burning houses and cars, looting businesses and attacking people, as the death toll in Kenya's post-election violence climbed to at least 125.

In Kibera, a sprawling slum area of Nairobi, youths armed with machetes, wooden posts and iron bars tore down shacks and looted whatever was left to take, in a scene played out across the country, on the third day of opposition riots to protest alleged election rigging.

Police reported that 125 people were killed, including dozens in the western town of Kisumu, one of the hardest-hit areas.

Witnesses said many were shot by police.

"The police were just firing live bullets. There were two [trucks] going around picking up bodies. I saw 10 bodies, and there were more in other areas," said a 37-year-old Kisumu resident who gave only his surname, Obok. "The fighting is still going on. The situation is very bad."

After chaos and irregularities in the ballot count after Thursday's election, President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. Kibaki was hastily sworn in Sunday.

The Bush administration "urged all parties to call on their supporters to remain calm and respect the rule of law," Scott Stanzel, a deputy White House press secretary, said yesterday in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush was spending the New Year's holiday.

A statement by the U.S. Embassy expressed concerns over the "serious problems" in the count but deplored the violence.

European observers said the election lacked credibility.

The bitter dispute over the vote could undermine Kenya's democracy, hitherto considered one of the most vibrant in Africa. The only recourse for the opposition is a court challenge, but Odinga has scorned the judiciary as Kibaki appointees who will not deliver justice.

The violence and looting also could damage Kenya's booming economy.

Kenyan voting patterns run along tribal lines, and Thursday's election was no exception, with the Luos and other tribes resentful at what they see as dominance by Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, which is the largest.

Election disputes in Kenya often spill into ethnic violence, in this case, opposition Luos hunting down and beating Kikuyus, who fled their homes to escape attack.

Kisumu journalist James Ochieng, 24, from the Nation Newspaper, said he had confirmed at least 40 dead there.

"There have been running battles all day between police and protesters. The mobs are overwhelming the police," said Ochieng, who like other residents of the western town was interviewed by telephone. "The Kikuyus are being evicted; they're being beaten. ... The situation is very volatile."

Twenty of those beaten in mob violence had to be treated in a Kisumu hospital but were transferred to a safe location when youths started to stone the building, he said.

Kibaki, 76, who has been in politics since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963 and will be in office another five years, called for calm, but he threatened tough action against protesters.

"My government will ... deal decisively with those who breach the peace, by intensifying security across the country," he warned.

In Nairobi, hundreds of riot police with shields were deployed to prevent opposition supporters from converging on a city park, blocking Odinga's plans to hold a ceremony swearing him in as the "people's president."

Odinga said he was the elected president, demanded that Kibaki step down and called for a mass protest in Nairobi on Thursday.

"For the last 48 hours, the people of Kenya have seen their nascent democracy shackled, strangled and finally killed," he said.

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

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