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Bewildered tourists find chaos on Kenya's coast
MOMBASA, Kenya |
MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Tourists arriving in Mombasa on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast were expecting to find the usual colorful fruit and vegetable markets lining the streets.
Instead, they found angry supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga roaming the road from the airport, which was littered with broken glass and burning tires.
President Mwai Kibaki's disputed election victory on Sunday triggered a wave of tribal clashes in one of Africa's most stable democracies that shocked the world.
By Tuesday, about 250 people had died.
"We should be in mourning," said Achal Kapila, a London-based lawyer who had planned to see in 2008 watching the sunset over an estuary on the palm-fringed South Coast.
In better times, tourists and affluent Kenyans gathered there for picnics near an ancient mosque on the white beach.
No champagne corks were popped this year, though.
Holidaymakers were held back after their flights landed at Mombasa's Moi International Airport while police arranged armed convoys to escort buses to hotels -- most of them safely removed from Kenya's second city and the unrest there.
Officers carrying assault rifles climbed into the backs of tourists' cars and taxis to accompany them to safety.
"I didn't know where I had come," said Katya Grineva, a Russian concert pianist who lives in New York. "We were scared at the airport. We didn't know what to expect."
Gunshots could be heard in the distance and smoke billowed over the port. The tourism sector contributes some $800 million a year to the economy -- Kenya's top foreign exchange earner.
A lot was at stake, said the Kenya Tourism Federation.
"We therefore urge the political establishment to respect the rule of law by addressing the election disputes in a manner that does not reverse the important gains made to the economy."
Visitors who drove down to the coast found themselves in more difficulties as supplies ran out at most petrol stations.
"I've got no fuel. There's no money at the bank. I really don't know what is going to happen," said one driver waiting in a queue of 20 cars at a garage.
Expatriates visiting the coast from upcountry said they were planning journeys home to avoid the major towns. Instead, they said they would take routes through Kenya's game parks -- normally thronged with tourists drawn by their rich wildlife.
Fuel shortages also hit the Rift Valley town of Naivasha, where minibuses that usually ferry camera-clicking tourists on safaris round its picturesque lake sat idle.
Jack Kamamia, a pump attendant at one deserted garage, said petrol tanker owners feared their vehicles would be caught up in the violence and for now were keeping them locked away.
"There won't be any fuel until peace prevails," he said.
(Additional reporting by Antony Gitonga in Naivasha and Joseph Sudah in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
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