January 17, 2008 / 7:15 AM / 12 years ago

Kenya faces third day of opposition rallies

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyans faced a third day of opposition protests on Friday as the death toll mounted from rallies against President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election.

A police officer uses his pistol during a protest by opposition supporters in Nairobi's Mathare slum January 17, 2008. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

At least eight people have been shot dead by police during two days of demonstrations called by Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

On Thursday, Odinga said officers also killed seven people in Nairobi, including the driver of an ODM legislator.

“The civilized nations of the world must condemn these sorts of things,” Odinga told a news conference. “Mr Kibaki should not be allowed to follow Mr Mugabe and take Kenya to the cesspit.”

The police deny targeting anyone and say the security forces have shot only looters and rioters who attacked their officers.

The authorities have banned three days of rallies called by ODM, despite calls from Western nations, including the United States and Britain, for it to allow peaceful protests.

The government says tempers are too high and that it fears rallies would degenerate into looting and rioting.

“We are dealing with mob psychology ... The Kenyan police are acting within the laws of this country,” police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told reporters on Thursday.

More ODM demonstrations were due on Friday and a likely flashpoint was the mostly Muslim coastal resort of Mombasa.

Odinga’s supporters have already fought running battles there with police firing teargas, and they vowed to take to the streets again after Friday prayers.

“POLITICAL DEADLOCK”

Odinga says Kibaki stole victory at polls on December 27 that international observers say fell short of democratic standards. Kibaki’s team also accuses Odinga’s side of rigging.

The country’s rapid slide into crisis has dented its democratic credentials, horrified world powers, scared off tourists and hurt one of Africa’s most promising economies.

In the three weeks since the vote, about 650 people have died in killings often targeting members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, and in clashes between police and protesters.

A quarter of a million Kenyans have been uprooted.

Late on Thursday, the United States blamed both sides of the political divide for the latest violence and said they must end their post-election deadlock for the sake of all Kenyans.

“Both sides bear responsibility for the fact that there is still violence. That violence springs from the fact that there are clashes because of the political deadlock,” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

“More than anything else they need to come together for the Kenyan people and for Kenya’s future.”

Slideshow (20 Images)

Former U.N. head Kofi Annan is due to lead the latest peace push after African Union talks failed last week. He was due to fly in this week, but fell ill with flu. The United Nations says he is recovering, but has given no date for his arrival.

Late on Thursday, local broadcaster KTN said two other members of Annan’s team of “Eminent Africans” had arrived in Kenya — former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, and Graca Machel, wife of former South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Additional reporting by Nick Tattersall in Nairobi and Sue Pleming in Washington; Editing by Stephen Weeks

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