Kenya opposition seeks new vote

January 7, 2008 11:06:36 AM PST
Kenya's opposition party demanded new presidential elections Friday as thousands of hungry slum dwellers swamped aid workers after days of deadly riots over the disputed vote cut supplies of groceries and water. A spokesman for President Mwai Kibaki said there would only be a rerun of the Dec. 27 election if a court orders it. Kenya's high court, which can annul the vote and force a new one, was largely appointed by Kibaki.

"The government doesn't reject or accept this. Only the court can call for the rerun of the election," Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press.

Kibaki won a second term in the election, but international observers say the vote tally was flawed. His rival, Raila Odinga, accused him of stealing the election.

Some 300 people have been killed and 100,000 left homeless in a week of turbulence that took an alarming ethnic twist, pitting other tribes against Kibaki's Kikuyu people. Shops and homes have been looted and houses and cars set ablaze, bringing chaos to a country considered an island of stability in violence-plagued East Africa.

The country should prepare "for a new election of the president," said Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement.

"This is about a democracy and justice," Nyongo said. "We shall continue to defend and promote the right of Kenyans so that the democratic process should be fulfilled."

Trouble spread Friday from Nairobi, the capital, to the coastal tourist city of Mombasa, where police hurled tear gas to scatter more than 1,000 protesters.

"Kibaki has stolen our vote!" they yelled. "No Raila, no peace!"v In Nairobi, Odinga supporters vowed that street protests would continue Friday, but none materialized. Instead, armed soldiers with riot shields patrolled.

Fred Nguli, 24, said he was simply too hungry to march. "As these rallies continue we are suffering because we are all casual laborers," he said. "You need food for energy to work or even demonstrate."

In Mombasa, food shortages caused price rises, with the cost of a loaf of bread more than doubling to $1, said Michael Musembi, who sells wood carvings.

"There is no kerosene to light lamps with. To travel round town is difficult because transporters have raised fares," he said. He said the politicians should "talk to each other and find a solution so that we can get on with our lives."

South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu held talks with Kibaki on Friday and with Odinga on Thursday, and said both men "indicated they are open to the possibilities of negotiations."

"There is a great deal of hope," Tutu said.

The leading U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, was traveling to Kenya for meetings Saturday, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

"She's meeting with Mr. Odinga and we have requested a meeting with President Kibaki. I see no reason why that won't happen," McCormack told reporters. Frazer would not serve as a mediator, but would try to encourage the leaders to talk, McCormack said.

He declined to comment specifically on the opposition call for a new election but said such homegrown ideas would be key to resolving the crisis.

"There are a lot of different suggestions that are being generated by the Kenyan political system and that is as it should be," McCormack said. "They should be looking for a variety of different solutions."

Germany's development minister suggested that EU aid to Kenya could be frozen if Kenyan officials spurn international offers of mediation.

"If those responsible in Kenya reject all mediation efforts, the international community must consider consequences," said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. "The EU ... has an effective lever to freeze resources."

On Thursday, Kibaki said he was "ready to have dialogue with concerned parties once the nation is calm."

Attorney General Amos Wako called Thursday for an independent investigation of the vote counting. The call from Wako, who is considered close to Kibaki, was a surprise and could reflect the seriousness of the rigging allegations.

But a spokesman for Odinga, Salim Lone, rejected the suggestion, saying his party had "no faith in any government institution." Violence has displaced thousands of people, many of forced out of burned homes.

"I lost my job working as house help after my Asian employers fled abroad following the riots," said Sarah Wanyama, 26. "My husband lost his job yesterday after his place of work was vandalized."

She said she had moved their two children to a "safer place" but none had eaten all day and they had no money.

Others were fleeing the country, fearing civil war would erupt. "I am leaving because I am actually afraid," Kenyan Brenda Simps said at Nairobi airport. He said he was going to Liberia, the West African nation struggling to recover from decades of civil war.

"I was in Liberia during the war and it started like this, so I don't want to take chances," Simps said.

In sprawling Kibera slum, shops remained shut and small groups of protesters gathered on street corners.

Red Cross workers came to distribute corn meal but drove off in fear when thousands of people gathered and became unruly.

Businesses have lost millions of dollars and the country's vitally important tourism industry suffered as British tour operators canceled planned vacations.

The World Bank warned the unrest "threatens impressive recent gains in economic growth and poverty reduction" in a country with a billion-dollar tourism industry and a 7 percent gross domestic product growth rate. It said the vibrant stock exchange lost 5 percent of the value of shares, lucrative tea auctions were suspended and agricultural activity in Kenya's breadbasket region largely were halted. --- Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Tom Maliti, Katharine Houreld and Todd Pitman contributed to this report.