Police, rioters clash in fresh Kenya violence

NAIROBI (AFP) – Police battled rioters in the west of Kenya on Monday as tribal clashes that left 130 dead over four days spread further across the country.

The violence — which saw dozens hacked and burned to death mainly in the western Rift Valley region — set a tense backdrop to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s ongoing mediation efforts.

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Rampaging youths set fire to shops, barricaded roads and taunted riot police in the western city of Kisumu, witnesses told AFP.

A police commander said one man was killed by a stray bullet when security forces opened fire to disperse crowds demonstrating in Kisumu against killings in other parts of the country.

Protestors were also angered by the authorities’ decision to re-open schools in the area, arguing that the situation remained too volatile to send children out in the streets.

“We cannot pretend that life is back to normal. Children must stay out of school so that the government can see that things are not normal,” said Joseph Bonyo, from a group of residents touring schools to pull the children out.

Incidents were also reported in the town of Eldoret and in Naivasha, a town about 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of Nairobi where 14 people were burnt to death on Sunday.

The town of Nakuru bore the brunt of the latest violence, with bitter clashes between gangs armed with machetes, metal bars, bows and arrows leaving dozens dead since January 24.

The police said that 155 people were detained overnight in Naivasha and Nakuru, as police attempted to restore order.

“They are being probed over arson and murder,” police commissioner Major General Mohamed Hussein Ali told a news conference Monday.

“We have enhanced deployment all over the places affected by the violence. The skirmishes appear to be ethnic. Communities are avenging each other but we are in control,” he added.

Violence erupted across Kenya after disputed December 27 presidential elections, with political protests giving way to tit-for-tat killings over long-running feuds between rival communities.

In Nairobi on Sunday, Annan met with opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims he was robbed of victory in last month’s election which returned President Mwai Kibaki to power.

“I condemn this murderous and evil act in the strongest terms possible,” Odinga said later of the Naivasha attack.

“What is now emerging is that criminal gangs, on a killing spree, are working under police protection.”

Human Rights Watch last week accused Kenya’s opposition of orchestrating ethnic violence in the region, a charge they immediately denied.

Around 900 people have died since the disputed election triggered the usually peaceful nation’s worst crisis since a failed 1982 coup against former president Daniel arap Moi.

In a separate development, the 83-year-old Moi, who ruled over Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years, was admitted in a Nairobi hospital Monday with back pains, his doctor told AFP.

The situation remained tense in Nakuru on Monday, with many residents accusing the police and army of standing by as violence raged.

“The police came here and ordered us to surrender our arms, but are not doing anything to protect us. At the moment we are still insecure,” said Cosmas Makori, 22, whose house was burnt down in a Nakuru slum on Friday.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told AFP that extra police had been deployed to restore order in the western towns.

“The government would like to reiterate that everybody behind every crime will be held accountable for his own or her own actions,” he said.

The army, in its first deployment since the election, played a backseat role in quelling the clashes in Nakuru, mainly clearing roadblocks, officials said.

Trucks piled with luggage were seen transporting thousands of people who had fled their homes in Nakuru, and a new displacement camp was set up in the town’s biggest sports stadium.

As Annan continued talks with political officials, Musalia Mudavadi, from Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, said progress had been made towards preparing talks with Kibaki.

“Our side and the other side will appoint three negotiators and an additional person as a liaison person,” Mudavadi told journalists on Sunday.

Annan on Thursday orchestrated a symbolic first meeting between Kibaki and Odinga, who shook hands, called for peace and hinted at a willingness to talk. But the gesture, hailed internationally, was later undermined by further squabbling, with both sides maintaining their hardline positions.