Blood, looting and tribal rivalries spread as violence grips country

NAIROBI - Bodies and debris lay in Kenyan streets yesterday as Western powers exerted pressure on President Mwai Kibaki to investigate his disputed re-election that has triggered days of riots that have killed about 150 people.

NAIROBI - Bodies and debris lay in Kenyan streets yesterday as Western powers exerted pressure on President Mwai Kibaki to investigate his disputed re-election that has triggered days of riots that have killed about 150 people.

The explosion of violence in one of Africa's most stable democracies and strongest economies has shocked the world and left Kenyans aghast as long-simmering tribal rivalries pitch communities against each other.

One leading newspaper expressed fears of a "meltdown".

Police were out in force on New Year's Day, and the streets were quieter throughout the morning. But details were emerging of a rising death toll in one of the country's darkest moments since independence from Britain in 1963.

Many of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, Kenya's largest and richest, were cowering rather than celebrating Sunday's vote win, as Luos and others in pro-opposition groups vowed militant action.

"They have robbed us of our victory and now they are shooting us. How can one man (Kibaki) cheat a whole nation? If a guerrilla war starts, I am ready to join," said opposition supporter Stanley Bwire, a Nairobi night watchman.

The US first congratulated Kibaki, then switched that line to express "concerns about irregularities".

Former colonial power Britain, the European Union and others pointedly avoided congratulating Kibaki and called for a probe into suspected voting irregularities from Thursday's vote that gave Kibaki another five-year term.

"The 2007 general elections have fallen short of key international and regional standards for democratic elections," the EU observer mission said in its formal assessment.

"They were marred by lack of transparency in the processing and tallying of presidential results, which raises concerns about the accuracy of the final results of this election."

Enraged supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga have clashed with police and looted Kikuyu-owned stores, paralysing the economy as businesses shut, food ran short and petrol pumps dried. There have also been attacks on Asians.

Heavily-armed police patrolled the streets of Nairobi,\ and other towns across the country, under orders from Kibaki to "deal with troublemakers".

Most deaths so far have come from police firing at protesters, witnesses say, prompting claims the usually mild-mannered Kibaki had made Kenya a "police state".

The Red Cross said it counted 120 deaths by Monday night but expected the toll to rise. A local newspaper put the figure at 164, while Reuters reporters estimated it around 150.

Nearly 40 bodies lay in the morturary of the western town of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, according to a top official there. Twenty more were in nearby Migori mortuary.

Odinga - whose party unseated most of Kibaki's cabinet and took far more seats in concurrent parliamentary polls - says the presidential vote was a stitch-up. He had led in every opinion poll bar one during the campaign.

The government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights called the electoral process "heavily flawed and devoid of credibility".

Amnesty International called for an independent inquiry into police killings.

Leading local newspaper, The Daily Nation, feared Kenya was on "the verge of a complete meltdown". Various countries issued travel warnings for Kenya. - Reuters

X