Katy Pownall

Katy Pownall

NAIROBI - Kenyan police have killed and wounded dozens of protesters, an international human rights group said yesterday, warning that the opposition's call for mass rallies raises concerns of new clashes.

Human Rights Watch said observers and officers described the police response as an unofficial shoot-to-kill policy.

Police denied the accusations, saying they "acted strictly within the laws of this country", said police spokesman Eric Kiraithe.

The death toll from violence since the December 27 election has risen to 575, said Kenya Red Cross Society spokesman Anthony Mwangi. He said the count was done in collaboration with the government, and is based on bodies counted at mortuaries and collected from homes and other places that were previously too unsafe to reach.

Kenya's opposition on Friday called for protests in 28 locations across the east African country in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations, following the failure of days of international mediation to break a deadlock between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The opposition Orange Democratic Movement urged the international community to impose targeted sanctions against the government of Kibaki.

Human rights activists who have denounced the police for alleged unjustified killings and excessive force, said they have information that police officers were plotting to harm them.

Jendayi Frazer, the leading US diplomat for Africa, said Kibaki and Odinga should sit together and, without preconditions, discuss how to end the standoff.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has agreed to take over mediation. - Sapa-AP