NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Kenya’s opposition party called for a new presidential election to settle a dispute over the vote that has sparked days of deadly riots, while small groups of protesters gathered in the capital’s slums to prepare for an opposition rally Friday.
There was no immediate comment on the call for a new vote from the government of President Mwai Kibaki, who is unlikely to accept such a demand. 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.
International observers say the vote count was flawed. Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of opposition candidate Raila 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, who was declared winner of the Dec. 27 vote, leaving the political deadlock to grind on. “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.”
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.
Friday in Kibera, the country’s largest slum, shops remained shut and small groups of protesters gathered on street corners. “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, displacing scores of families.
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 upheaval has spread to the coast and the western highlands.
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 (euros), the vibrant stock exchange lose five percent of the value of shares, lucrative tea auctions suspended and agricultural activity in Kenya’s breadbasket region largely halted, the World Bank said in a statement it said also reflected the views of eight development partners including the U.S. and Europe.
Jendayi Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, planned to travel to Kenya for talks with Kibaki and Odinga, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Frazer would not serve as a mediator, but would try to encourage the leaders to talk, McCormack said.
South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu met Odinga in Nairobi Thursday, saying afterward Odinga was ready for “the possibility of mediation.” Kibaki’s office said the president was expected to meet Tutu on Friday.
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 had 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 with reports that are never released and have no practical effects.
Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press he had “no problem” with Wako’s call. But Odinga’s spokesman, Lone, rejected it, saying his party had “no faith in any government institution.”