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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Ethnic violence in Kenya's Rift Valley is undermining attempts by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mediate a crisis that has killed more than 700.
On Saturday, Annan said turmoil over President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election had evolved into something worse, denouncing "gross and systematic" human rights abuses after visiting the Rift Valley and calling for an investigation.
Nakuru, a previously calm tourist town, has been rocked by three days of pitched tribal battles.
"Let us not kid ourselves and think that this is an electoral problem. It's much broader and much deeper," he said.
"We have to tackle the fundamental issues that underlie what we are witnessing today. If we do not do that, three, five years from now we may be back at this."
The turmoil unleashed by the December 27 polls has shattered the east African nation's image of stability, horrified world powers and jeopardized the region's most promising economy.
But many Kenyans say leaders on both sides of the political divide show few signs of addressing deep seated tribal rivalries over land, business and power -- many of them born more than 45 years ago under British colonial rule.
Nakuru, a lakeshore town, had been spared the riots and bloodshed that have convulsed parts of Kenya since the vote, which opposition leader Raila Odinga accuses Kibaki of rigging.
But late on Thursday -- after the first talks between the two men since the ballot prompted a new round of acrimony -- it slid into chaos.
Charred and hacked bodies piled up at the morgue on Saturday as the death toll rose to at least 27. Tribal gangs armed with machetes, spears and bows and arrows manned roadblocks, and sporadic gunfire rattled into the early hours of Sunday.
The unrest has inflamed long-held rivalries between Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and members of the Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups who supported Odinga.
In the ethnically-mixed Rift Valley, the violence has been stoked by the settling of old scores, and both sides talk of revenge. Thousands have fled and hundreds of homes burnt.
Cosmas Monyao, a Nakuru trader whose livelihood selling hats to tourists has collapsed, was furious with his leaders.
"Me, I don't care what tribe you're from, you're spoiling my business," he said.
"If Kibaki and Raila want to fight, why don't they just have a fight man to man? They shouldn't involve the people."
Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Nakuru; editing by Elizabeth Piper