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International pressure mounts for Kenya to end violence; at least 300 dead

    NAIROBI, Kenya — International pressure mounted on Kenya’s leaders Wednesday to end postelection violence that has killed more than 300 people, including dozens burned alive as they sought refuge in a church.
    The killing of up to 50 ethnic Kikuyus as they sheltered in a church in the Rift Valley city of Eldoret fueled fears of deepening tribal conflict in what has been one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
    The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, are accused of using their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others. President Mwai Kibaki, who won a second term in the disputed elections, is a Kikuyu, while his rival Rail Odinga is from the Luo tribe, a smaller but still major tribe that says it has been marginalized.
    The Bush administration expressed dismay over the turmoil, which erupted over allegations that the government stole the election.
    ‘‘It’s a terrible tragedy what happened yesterday to the Kenyans who were fleeing the violence and were killed in the church fire,’’ said White House press secretary Dana Perino. ‘‘It’s hard-pressed to comprehend here how this could have gone so wrong in terms of Kenya being on its way to some stability and then having this election turn into such a violent situation.’’
    Much of Nairobi was quiet and deserted Wednesday, though clashes continued in the city’s giant Mathare slum. Odinga has said he will go ahead with plans to lead a ‘‘million man’’ protest march in the capital Thursday even though the government has banned it.
    Government spokesman Alfred Mutua downplayed the violence, saying it had only affected about 3 percent of the country’s 34 million people. ‘‘Kenya is not burning and not at the throes of any division,’’ he said.
    The U.N. cited Kenyan police as saying 70,000 people had been displaced in five days of violence. Around 5,400 people also have fled to neighboring Uganda, said Musa Ecweru, that country’s disaster preparedness minister. Several hundred people also have fled to Tanzania, officials there said.
    Mutua said the security forces had arrested 500 people since skirmishes began.
    The violence has cost the country $31 million a day, Vice President Moody Awori told a local television station. He gave no details, but many businesses have closed during the unrest and some foreign governments have advised their citizens against travel to usually tourist-friendly nation.
    The conflict has begun to affect regional trade. Many petrol stations in Uganda have temporarily closed down due to shortage of fuel, much of which is imported by road from Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast.
    The head of the country’s electoral commission, Samuel Kivuitu, said he had been pressured by both sides to announce the results quickly — and perhaps wrongly. The country’s oldest newspaper, The Standard, on Wednesday quoted Kivuitu as saying, ‘‘I do not know whether Kibaki won the election.’’
    In a joint statement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband said there were ‘‘independent reports of serious irregularities in the counting process.’’
    Both welcomed news the African Union would send its chief, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, to mediate the conflict. AU spokeswoman Habiba Mejri-Cheikh said Kufuor was expected in Kenya on Wednesday, but Kufuor’s press office said the leader had canceled the visit. They gave no explanation.
    Rice and Miliband called ‘‘on all political leaders to engage in a spirit of compromise that puts the democratic interests of Kenya first.’’
    ‘‘The immediate priority is to combine a sustained call from Kenya’s political leaders for the cessation of violence by their followers,’’ the statement said.
    On Tuesday, Kibaki called for a meeting with his political opponents — a significant softening of tone for a man who vowed to crack down on rioters.
    But Odinga refused, saying he would meet Kibaki only ‘‘if he announces that he was not elected.’’ Odinga accused the government of stoking the chaos, telling The Associated Press in an interview that Kibaki’s administration ‘‘is guilty, directly, of genocide.’’
    U.S. Ambassador Michael E. Ranneberger urged both sides to work together.
    ‘‘This is a time where two of the greatest Kenyan patriots, the president and Raila Odinga, need to step forward and work out a practical way forward in the interest of the Kenyan people,’’ he told British Broadcasting Corp.
    Miliband said he did not know who won the election but that both sides had a responsibility to resolve the conflict. ‘‘I very much hope that both Mr. Odinga and President Kibaki will realize that there is nothing to be gained by either of them pretending that this is cut and dried,’’ he told BBC radio.
    In Nairobi’s slums, which are often divided along tribal lines, rival groups have been fighting each other with machetes and sticks as police use tear gas and bullets to keep them from pouring into the city center. The capital has been a ghost town for days, with residents stocking up on food and water and staying in their homes.
    In Mathare, mothers clutching wide-eyed infants and suitcases were evacuated by riot police while angry youths armed with machetes and axes heaped abuse on the police as the slum burned.
    ‘‘All you do here is come to pick up bodies,’’ shouted Boniface Shikami.
    Several threw rocks toward the police vehicle, and officers fired in the air before a patrol truck skidded around a corner to try to separate battling supporters of Odinga and Kibaki.
    As shopkeepers battled with flames leaping through their corrugated iron roofs, a dazed woman clutching a kitten wandered through the smoke.
    ‘‘They have burned down my house and all I have now is my cat,’’ wailed Hannah Warigui.
    John Okello, a doctor, said clinics around the city were running short of basic materials like gauze because so many people have been arriving with machete wounds. He said the city’s main Nairobi Hospital was trying to ferry supplies to the clinics.
    The people killed in Eldoret, about 185 miles northwest of Nairobi, were members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.
    The Kikuyus in Eldoret had fled to the Assemblies of God Church on Monday night, seeking refuge after mobs torched homes. Video on Tuesday from a helicopter chartered by the Red Cross showed many homes in flames and the horizon obscured by smoke. Groups of people were seen seeking sanctuary at schools and the airport, while others moved into the forest.
    On Tuesday morning, a mob of about 2,000 arrived and started burning the church, said George Karanja, whose family had sought refuge there.
    Karanja, 37, helped pull out at least 10 people, but added, ‘‘I could not manage to pull out my sister’s son. He was screaming ’Uncle, uncle!’ ... He died.’’ The boy was 11.
    Up to 50 people were killed in the attack, said a Red Cross official who spoke on condition of anonymity because her name would identify her tribe, and she feared reprisal. Even first aid workers were stopped by vigilantes who demanded their identity.
    Karanja said his two children raised their hands as they left the church and they were beaten with a cane, but not killed. His 90-year-old father was attacked with a machete, but survived, he said.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Tom Maliti and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi and Godfrey Oluka in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.

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