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Kenya opposition seeks new vote after deadly election violence; police scatter protesters
Burned homesteads just outside the town of Burnt Forest, some 35 kilometers from Eldoret, Kenya, Friday, Jan. 4, 2008. Kenya's opposition party called Friday for a rerun of the country's disputed election, as political deadlock between the president and his chief rival ground on after a week of spiraling violence. - photo by Associated Press
    NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s opposition called for a new presidential election to settle a dispute that has sparked deadly riots from the capital to the coast, but a government spokesman said Friday a new vote could come on only on orders from the highest court.
    ‘‘As long as the due process of law is followed and the constitution is respected the president will obey,’’ government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press. When asked if the constitution allowed for a re-run, he said: ‘‘I doubt it.’’
    Kenya’s Supreme Court, largely appointed by President Mwai Kibaki, has so far not entered the dispute over the Dec. 27 vote.
    In Mombasa, a coastal city heavily dependent on tourism, police used tear gas to scatter 1,500 protesters who were shouting ‘‘Kibaki has stolen our vote!’’ There were no immediate reports of injuries.
    South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu held talks with Kibaki saying both the president and opposition leader Raila Odinga ‘‘indicated they are open to the possibilities of negotiations,’’ adding ‘‘there is a great deal of hope.’’
    The U.S. and Europe were among those pushing for reconciliation, but said a ‘‘made-in-Kenya solution’’ is needed to end the violence that has killed 300 people and displaced 100,000 in what was once lauded as among the most stable democracies in Africa.
    ‘‘There are a lot of different suggestions that are being generated by the Kenyan political system and that is as it should be,’’ said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
    Jendayi Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, planned to travel to encourage the leaders to talk, McCormack said. He said she would definitely see Odinga but was still awaiting confirmation of an expected meeting with Kibaki.
    In Nairobi, supporters of opposition candidate Odinga vowed that street protests would continue Friday, but by midday there no signs of a mass protest brewing. Small groups of protesters were gathering on street corners in the slums, though, saying they were preparing for a rally.
    International observers say ballot counting after the Dec. 27 vote that returned Kibaki to power was flawed. Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of opposition candidate Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, said the country should ready ‘‘for a new election of the president.’’ With the call, the opposition appeared to leave little room for compromise with Kibaki.
    Salim Lone, a spokesman for Odinga, said ‘‘we will not back down until there is a clear solution for the crisis caused by the stolen election.’’
    Odinga had called for a million people to gather Thursday in a park in the city center, but postponed that until Friday after protesters were pushed back by police with tear gas and water cannons.
    ‘‘Let people die and then there will be a change,’’ said Joshua Okoth, standing with a group of young men by the smoking remains of a Kibera food market.
    Okoth said he was trying to get to the rally in Uhuru Park, a traditional meeting place for political activists that was flooded with riot police Friday. Riot police also were patrolling the main roads leading from Kibera and other slums into central Nairobi.
    Ruth Otieno, who lives in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, said Friday about 60 houses were burned down in Mathare overnight.
    The violent images — of burning buildings, machete-wielding gangs, looters making off with gasoline — are heartbreakingly common in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan, but until now not in Kenya.
    In some areas, the political dispute has degenerated into violence pitting Kibaki’s influential Kikuyus against Odinga’s Luos and other tribes.
    The World Bank issued a statement saying the unrest ‘‘threatens impressive recent gains in economic growth and poverty reduction’’ in a country with a billion-dollar tourism industry and a gross domestic product growth rate of seven percent.
    The turmoil has seen businesses lose millions of dollars, the vibrant stock exchange lose 5 percent of the value of shares, lucrative tea auctions suspended and agricultural activity in Kenya’s breadbasket region largely halted, the World Bank said. It said the statement also reflected the views of eight development partners including the U.S. and Europe.
    On Thursday, Kibaki said he was ‘‘ready to have dialogue with concerned parties once the nation is calm and the political temperatures are lowered enough for constructive and productive engagement.’’
    Also Thursday, Attorney General Amos Wako called for an independent probe of the vote counting. He did not elaborate or say whether an independent body would include foreign observers, and it was unclear whether he had Kibaki’s backing or made the statement independently.
    Wako, who was appointed to his lifetime post by former President Daniel arap Moi, has been seen as close to Kibaki.
    The call to launch an independent election probe was a surprise and could reflect the seriousness of the rigging allegations. But the government has a long history of appointing independent commissions to investigate wrongdoing, only to have them take years and end inconclusively.
    Mutua, the government spokesman, told The Associated Press he had ‘‘no problem’’ with Wako’s call. But Odinga’s spokesman rejected it, saying his party had ‘‘no faith in any government institution.’’
    Associated Press writers Katharine Houreld, Khaled Kazziha, Tom Maliti, Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Malkhadir M. Muhumed and Todd Pitman contributed to this report.

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