- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A mob torched a church sheltering hundreds of Kenyans fleeing election violence yesterday, killing up to 50 people as four days of rioting and ethnic clashes marked some of the darkest times in this country’s history.

The violence has killed at least 270 persons in what had been East Africa’s most stable and prosperous democracy.

President Mwai Kibaki — sworn in Sunday after a vote that opponents say was rigged — said political parties should meet immediately and publicly call for calm.

The opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, refused the offer.

“If he announces that he was not elected, then I will talk to him,” Mr. Odinga told the Associated Press.

Mr. Odinga accused the government of stoking the chaos, saying the Kibaki administration “is guilty, directly, of genocide.”

The violence — which has erupted from the shantytowns of Nairobi to resort towns on the sweltering coast — has exposed tribal resentments that have long festered in Kenya.

Mr. Kibaki’s Kikuyu people, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, are accused of turning their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others.

Mr. Odinga is from the Luo tribe, a smaller but still major tribe. In the slums, which are often divided along tribal lines, rival groups have been going at each other with machetes and sticks as police fire tear gas and live rounds to keep them from pouring out into the city center.

The church fire in Eldoret, about 185 miles from the capital, killed at least 50 people, said a Red Cross volunteer who counted the bodies and helped the wounded. She asked that her name — which would identify her tribe — not be published, saying gangs were even checking on the tribal affiliations of aid workers.

Anne Njoki, a 28-year-old Kikuyu, said she fled her home in the slums after she saw Kikuyus being attacked and their homes looted. She was camped out near a military base with her sister, 3-year-old nephew and 7-year-old niece.

“They have taken our beds, blankets, even spoons,” she said of the looters. The children had not eaten for days.

The European Union and the United States have refused to congratulate Mr. Kibaki, and the EU and four top Kenyan elections officials have called for an independent inquiry.

Also yesterday, Mr. Odinga insisted he would go on with plans for a march of a million people in the capital tomorrow against Mr. Kibaki, who had been trailing Mr. Odinga in early election results and opinion polls before pulling ahead.

The government has banned the demonstration, but Mr. Odinga said: “It doesn’t matter what they say.”

Riots also have been raging in opposition strongholds in western Kenya, the tourism-dependent coast and the Rift Valley.

In Nairobi’s Mathare slum, Odinga supporters torched a minibus and attacked Kikuyu travelers, witnesses said yesterday.

“The car had 14 people in it but they only slashed Kikuyus,” said Boniface Mwangi. Five were attacked by the machete-wielding gang and others were robbed, he said.

In Nairobi’s slums — home to a third of the city’s population — parents searched for food with many shops closed because of looting.

Winnie Nduku, 34, said she and her three young children hadn’t eaten in three days and the family had no money because her husband, a minibus driver, had been unable to get to work.

“My eldest daughter keeps asking what am I going to do, and the small one is crying from hunger,” she said.

Mr. Kibaki, 76, won by a landslide in 2002, ending 24 years in power by Daniel arap Moi.

He is praised for turning the country into an economic powerhouse with an average growth rate of 5 percent, but his anti-graft campaign has been seen as a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty.

Mr. Odinga, 62, cast himself as a champion of the poor.

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