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NAIROBI - A Kenyan television channel and the opposition have accused authorities of using policemen in disguise to rig today's elections, likely to be the closest ever in the history of the east African nation.
Broadcaster KTN and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) - which has held a narrow lead in opinion polls ahead of the vote - said the government was disguising police as party agents to carry out fraud at polling stations.
KTN ran murky images of some 20 civilian buses taking policemen out of a Nairobi training college under cover of darkness.
It quoted sources as saying the police had been stripped of their usual ID and given letters accrediting them as agents of President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU), to get them access to voting stations.
"They were issued each with 1000 pre-marked ballot papers to be stuffed by them," said ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
"I've appealed to Kibaki to prevail on his agents against election rigging acts that could plunge this country into bloodshed," Odinga said
In the latest violence of a roughand-tumble election campaign, a mob killed two policemen in western Nyanza province, an opposition stronghold, accusing them of being part of the plot, a security official said.
The campaign has been marred by several deaths and riots at party rallies.
Many fear trouble on voting day or in the aftermath as results trickle out.
At least 100 police from the elite General Service Unit would be deployed today to Nyanza, Odinga's tribal homeland, "to deal with expected riots", the security source said.
With tomorrow's vote seen as a big test of Kenya's democratic credentials in a continent plagued by election controversies, Kibaki's government denied the latest accusations and said claims of fraud plans were "preposterous".
"Rigging is only in the minds of those who keep on manufacturing the lies because they would like to get power using illegal means," government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.
The Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), which has won praise from foreign observers for its work in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary polls, said it was watching the controversy very closely.
"We saw the footage. I don't know why they (police) should want secrecy. That is not satisfactory," ECK spokesman Mani Lemayian said.
"If the accusations are true, it's worrying."
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe confirmed the deaths of two officers in Nyanza.
He added that claims of rigging were "far-fetched", with thousands of observers in place.
The local Kenya Elections Domestic Observation group is fielding about 20000 observers, while there are half a dozen foreign missions from the European Union to the Commonwealth.
All but one opinion poll since September have put Odinga - a 62-year-old businessman and former political prisoner - a few points ahead of Kibaki, 76, in the race for stewardship of east Africa's economic powerhouse.
In 2002, Kenya experienced a rarity in African politics - the broadly peaceful transition of power from "Big Man" ruler Daniel Arap Moi.
Kibaki has said he will step down and retire to his highland farm if he loses this time around. But analysts believe those around him might not be so willing to relinquish power.
Kibaki has been campaigning on his strong economic record of average five percent yearly growth.
He has the support of his economically-powerful Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest.
Odinga has the ardent backing of his western Luo community but has also garnered support from other ethnic groups who think the Kikuyus have had it too good under Kibaki.
About 14million of Kenya's 36million people are eligible to vote from 6am to 6 pm tomorrow.
Official results are expected from Friday. The winner needs simply to get more votes than the other contender, plus 25percent in five of Kenya's eight provinces.
Analysts say both Odinga and Kibaki should garner the latter easily, meaning a run-off is highly unlikely. - Reuters