December 31, 2007 / 3:16 AM / 11 years ago

Kenya pressured over disputed poll as toll rises

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States and Britain are pressuring Kenya to investigate possible voting irregularities in an election that returned President Mwai Kibaki to power and triggered rioting in which more than 100 people have died.

Opposition protesters run as police use water canons in the Kibera slum during riots in Nairobi, December 31, 2007. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

The death toll appeared certain to rise after Kibaki’s disputed victory in east Africa’s biggest economy.

International observers who first hailed the ballot as an example for the continent expressed serious concerns about the vote-counting and abhorred the nationwide clashes that followed.

“All sides should exercise and work for a solution that reflects the will of the Kenyan people,” said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke to Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga and urged them to work together.

The United States said disputes over the result should be resolved promptly through “constitutional and legal remedies” and that it was working with all parties to avoid more violence.

Reuters estimates about 100 people have been killed, based on witnesses, body counts and credible media reports of the battles between police and machete-wielding protesters.

Residents said bodies still lay on some streets of Kisumu, a city in the opposition’s western heartland. Local TV station KTN said the nationwide toll had reached at least 124.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored the bloodshed and urged the security forces to show the utmost restraint.

The violence in the capital Nairobi, the Indian Ocean resort of Mombasa and many smaller towns put investment in the economy at risk and dented Kenya’s image as a haven of relative stability in an often dangerous region.

Opposition supporters protest on a main road in the Bamburi area of the coastal city of Mombasa, December 31, 2007. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

In a New Year message, Kibaki urged reconciliation but promised to deal decisively with any troublemakers.

TENSIONS HIGH

Much of the fighting has pitted members of his Kikuyu ethnic group, Kenya’s largest and most economically dominant tribe, against Luo supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

As many people stayed at home in fear, most businesses remained closed and supplies of food, fuel and water ran low.

Kisumu, where witnesses said police fired on protesters when riots erupted on Sunday, has been the scene of the worst of the violence.

Slideshow (23 Images)

On Monday, 21 bodies lay at a mortuary there. Most had gunshot wounds. Verifying the toll was hard because reporters were barred by a man who said he was a government employee.

The government said it would not declare a state of emergency or any curfews, and would not deploy the military. “Police are handling the matter and the government expects the situation to normalize in the next few days,” a statement said.

Odinga, who says he is Kenya’s elected leader, has called for a million supporters to gather for a rally in a central Nairobi park on Thursday.

Both sides have accused the other of blatant rigging during the December 27 poll, which passed off peacefully. Early tallies showed Odinga ahead but official final results that were delayed three days showed Kibaki winning narrowly.

Chief EU monitor Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said the tallying process lacked credibility.

Several members of Kenya’s electoral commission said they would call for a judicial review of reported problems including missing paperwork, inflated figures and ballot-stuffing.

“We cannot remain silent under the circumstances,” said one, Jack Tumwa. “We cannot pass the buck to anyone.”

Additional reporting by Tim Cocks, Nicolo Gnecchi, Katie Nguyen, Bryson Hull, George Obulutsa, Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, Duncan Miriri, Wangui Kanina, Joseph Sudah, Guled Mohamed in Kisumu; Arjun Kohli in Mombasa and Francis Kwera in Malaba, Uganda; editing by Robert Woodward

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