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Riots mar close Kenya vote; both parties declare victory

A looter was confronted by Kenyan riot police after he was kicked out of a store he was ransacking in the Mathare neighborhood of Nairobi yesterday. With votes in 180 of 210 constituencies counted, opposition leader Raila Odinga clung to a small lead over incumbent Mwai Kibaki by 38,000 votes, but delays in the tallying raised suspicions of rigging and sparked nationwide riots. A looter was confronted by Kenyan riot police after he was kicked out of a store he was ransacking in the Mathare neighborhood of Nairobi yesterday. With votes in 180 of 210 constituencies counted, opposition leader Raila Odinga clung to a small lead over incumbent Mwai Kibaki by 38,000 votes, but delays in the tallying raised suspicions of rigging and sparked nationwide riots. (BONIFACE MWANGI/AFP/Getty Images)
Email|Print| Text size + By Elizabeth A. Kennedy
Associated Press / December 30, 2007

NAIROBI - Thousands of Kenyans enraged over delays in announcing the country's next president burned down homes and attacked political rivals with sticks and machetes yesterday, tainting a vote that was initially seen as a beacon of hope for democracy in Africa.

Three people were shot to death during protests in Migori, 360 miles west of Nairobi, said area Police Chief Grace Kaindi. In the capital, Nairobi, hundreds of supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga marching on the electoral commission were beaten back by police using tear gas.

Thursday's vote pitted incumbent President Mwai Kibaki against Odinga, a flamboyant millionaire who cast himself as a champion of the poor. It was the country's most closely fought election since the nation gained its independence from Britain in 1963. Yesterday, both parties said they had won, but the electoral commission said counting was not yet finished.

With votes in 180 of 210 constituencies counted, Odinga clung to his razor-thin lead by 38,000 votes. Despite pleas from both parties to release the final results quickly, Samuel Kivuitu, electoral commission chairman, suspended announcing tallies for the night, promising to look into allegations of rigging from both sides.

"If they don't announce results in two hours, we are going to burn this place down!" shouted 23-year-old John Odhiambo, as youths armed with metal rods looted a flaming market behind him in the capital's biggest slum, Kibera.

Police Commissioner Hussein Ali appealed for calm. "There cannot be democracy where people think they can get recourse through hooliganism," he said. It is the first time an incumbent has faced a credible challenge in Kenya's four decades of independence.

Odinga, a fiery 62-year-old former political prisoner, promised change and help for the poor. His main constituency is Kibera, home to at least 700,000 people who live in extreme poverty and the scene of many of yesterday's riots. In recent months he has made it a priority to reach out to the country's middle class and businessmen, many of whom are Kikuyus.

Supporters of 76-year-old Kibaki say he has turned Kenya's moribund economy into an East African powerhouse, with an average growth rate of 5 percent and a booming tourism industry. But Kibaki's antigraft campaign has been seen as largely a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty.

The trickle of results ignited tensions in the capital and opposition strongholds yesterday. In Nairobi, the stores that did open yesterday were shutting their doors as the violence escalated, and many people stocked up on food and water. In Kibera, young men with fingers still stained with voting ink were shouting "No Raila, No Kenya!" - an ominous call to declare him the winner. Hundreds of people swarmed out of the slum, heading for town, but police used tear gas to chase them back.

Smoke billowed out of Kibera as homes and trees caught fire.

Police were blocking off streets as young men climbed billboards to rip down Odinga posters in Nairobi about 6 miles outside the deserted city center.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party said the government was deliberately delaying results because Kibaki was losing.

"We may get them [results] tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. It depends on when they come," Samuel Kivuitu, party chairman, said at a news conference.

In order to win, a presidential candidate must get the most votes and garner at least 25 percent of the vote in five of Kenya's eight provinces, a move aimed at ensuring a president has some support in most of the country and among its many tribes.

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