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Kenya opposition sees death-toll reaching 250

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Reuters  Jan 01, 2008

Bodies and debris lay in Kenyan streets on Tuesday as Western powers pressed President Mwai Kibaki to investigate a disputed re-election that has triggered days of riots killing at least 150 people.
The opposition estimates about 250 deaths.
The explosion of violence in one of Africa's most stable democracies and strongest economies has shocked the world and left Kenyans aghast as long-simmering tribal rivalries pitch communities against each other.
Leading local newspaper, the Daily Nation, feared Kenya was on "the verge of a complete melt-down".
Police were out in force on New Year's Day, and the streets were quieter. But details emerged of a rising death toll and widespread destruction in one of the country's darkest moments since 1963 independence from Britain.
Many of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest and richest, were cowering rather than celebrating Sunday's win, as Luo tribesfolk and opposition supporters threatened militant action.
"They have robbed us of our victory and now they are shooting us. How can one man (Kibaki) cheat a whole nation? If a guerrilla war starts, I am ready to join," said opposition supporter Stanley Bwire, a Nairobi night watchman.
Washington first congratulated Kibaki -- then switched that line to express "concerns about irregularities". Britain, the European Union and others pointedly avoiding congratulating Kibaki, expressed concern, and called for reconciliation talks plus a probe into suspected voting irregularities from Thursday's ballot.
"The 2007 general elections have fallen short of key international and regional standards for democratic elections," the EU observer mission said in its formal assessment.
Western diplomats shuttled between officials of both sides, trying to start mediation. "The government thinks they can wait this out, but we're not convinced," one told Reuters.
FUEL AND FOOD SHORTAGES
Enraged supporters of opposition leader Odinga have clashed with police and looted Kikuyu-owned stores, paralysing the economy as businesses shut, food runs short and petrol pumps dry. There have also been some attacks on Kenyan Asians.
Heavily armed police patrolled Nairobi and other towns, under orders from Kibaki to "deal with troublemakers".
Odinga visited victims in hospital.
Most deaths have come from police firing at protesters, witnesses say, prompting accusations from rights groups and the opposition that Kibaki had made Kenya a "police state".
Police gave a death toll of 143. But local media gave figures of between 153 and 164, and Reuters reporters around the nation estimated about 150 dead, with that number sure to rise.
Odinga said his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) verified 160 fatalities to Monday night, but with overnight killings added, the total would likely be about 250 or "slightly more".
Forty bodies lay in the mortuary of Kisumu town, an opposition stronghold, the head of the institution said.
Many Kenyans said the violence was hitting the poor rather than the political class who caused it.
"It is the politicians living in their secure compounds who are inciting ethnic hatred," Father Daniel Moschetti told Reuters from Nairobi's Korogocho shanty-town as machete-wielding youths stalked outside his tin-roofed home.
"This is a war of the poor."
TOURISM FEARS
Odinga -- whose party unseated most of Kibaki's cabinet and took far more seats in parliamentary polls held the same day -- says the presidential vote was a stitch-up. He had led in every opinion poll bar one during the campaign.
Both sides have accused the other of vote rigging.
The state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights called the vote "heavily flawed and devoid of credibility". Amnesty International urged a probe into police killings.
The violence in Nairobi, the Indian Ocean resort of Mombasa, and many smaller towns, has jeopardised investment in an economy ticking along at 5 percent annual growth under Kibaki.
Various countries issued travel warnings for Kenya, whose $800 million-a-year tourism industry is its biggest earner.
"Kenya, a nation of peace and civility, is now being regarded by the international community as a 'trouble-spot' and spoken of in the same breath as Pakistan," the Nation said.
"Never since 1982 has there been so much uncertainty," its editorial added, referring to a failed but bloody coup attempt.
Such was the turmoil that 300 people in western Kenya fled to neighbouring Uganda -- from where thousands escaped into Kenya during decades of dictatorship and civil war.
The Somali president, who frequently enjoys some much-needed peace in Kenya from his war-torn homeland, left for Mogadishu.
The government said it would not declare a state of emergency or any curfews, or use the military.
But it kept a controversial ban on live media broadcasts.
Odinga, a 62-year-old former political prisoner and tycoon, says he is Kenya's elected leader and has called for a million supporters to gather for a rally in a central Nairobi park on Thursday. Police are likely to ban it. (Additional reporting by Nico Gnecchi, Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, Bryson Hull and Daniel Wallis; and Guled Mohamed in Kisumu; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Kenya opposition sees death-toll reaching 250



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