- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s president threatened a crackdown yesterday as rioters rampaged for a third day over what they called his sham re-election — a bloody convulsion threatening what has been East Africa’s most stable and prosperous democracy.

At least 135 Kenyans were reported killed in violence that flared from the shantytowns of Nairobi to resort towns on the sweltering coast. Opposition leaders set the stage for more turmoil by calling for 1 million people to rally against President Mwai Kibaki.

In the slums of Nairobi, rioters waved machetes and shouted, “Kibaki must go,” while police beat protesters with clubs, fired tear gas and shot live bullets into the air. Much of the country was at a standstill, with shops closed and many people hunkered inside their homes.

“We are ready to die and we’re ready for serious killings,” James Onyango, 24, who lives in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, told the Associated Press as homes and shops around him burned.

Although the two camps have no strong policy differences, the bloodshed exposed tribal resentments that have long festered in Kenya, where Mr. Kibaki’s Kikuyu people — the largest group — are accused of turning their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others. Political loyalties are often tribal-linked, and ethnic gangs were reported attacking rival groups.

The opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe, called for 1 million people to march Thursday on the capital’s Uhuru Park, where protesters seeking multiparty democracy massed in the early 1990s.

“We are calling for mass action,” said Mr. Odinga, who led Mr. Kibaki in opinion polls before last Thursday’s balloting as well as in early election returns until his lead suddenly evaporated as official figures came out over the weekend. “We will march wearing black arm bands because we are mourning.”

Mr. Kibaki, in a New Year’s message to Kenyans, called “for healing and reconciliation,” but he warned that his government would “deal decisively with those who breach the peace by intensifying security across the country.”

Three police officers independently told the Associated Press that they had been ordered to shoot to kill to stop rioters. A government spokesman denied such an order was given.

Teams of riot police deployed in the capital’s Kibera and Mathere shantytowns blocked people from marching on the largely deserted downtown.

In one neighborhood, a woman and her four young children ran from their home retching after police fired tear gas into the building. Other people said they had not been able to find food since shops closed Thursday for the election.

Ethnic fighting was evident in Nairobi’s sprawling slums, where the neighborhoods are often divided along tribal lines. Kenya’s Red Cross said that many of the dead were killed in ethnic clashes and that gangs were even checking on the tribal affiliations of Red Cross workers trying to help the injured.

Riots also raged in opposition strongholds in western Kenya, the tourism-dependent coast and the Rift Valley. In the port city of Mombasa, protesters looted shops and shouted, “No Raila, no peace,” using the first name of Mr. Odinga, whom they support. The death toll across the country stood at 135, based on accounts from police, morgues and witnesses.

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