December 30, 2007 / 12:01 AM / 12 years ago

Protests erupt as Kenyan leader wins vote

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki won a second five-year term on Sunday in a disputed election victory that triggered deadly riots by tens of thousands of opposition supporters.

Supporters of the Party of National Unity (PNU) of President Mwai Kibaki cheer after his victory was declared in Nairobi, December 30, 2007. Re-elected President Kibaki urged Kenyans on Sunday to put aside election "passions" and unite for the sake of their nation. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

Pushing the stakes still higher, his opposition rival Raila Odinga rejected the results as rigged and announced an alternative inauguration for Monday in a Nairobi park.

To curb spreading chaos in a nation usually known as a haven of stability in volatile east Africa, the government sent trucks of police onto the streets and banned live TV transmissions.

As smoke billowed from protests in Nairobi slums, Kibaki was sworn in on the lawn of State House just an hour after the final vote tally was announced, his hand on a Bible.

The 76-year-old urged Kenyans to put aside election “passions” and promised a corruption-free government to forge unity in the ethnically polarized nation of 36 million, the region’s biggest economy.

“I thank all of you for the trust you have bestowed upon me,” he said. “I urge all or us to set aside the passions that were excited by the election process and work together.”

At opposition headquarters, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) invited supporters to an alternative inauguration ceremony for the “people’s president” Odinga on Monday afternoon.

“There is a clique of people around Kibaki trying to rob Kenyans of the election,” he said, wiping away tears. “The train of democracy in Kenya is unstoppable like the flow of the Nile.”

As he spoke, the government suspended all live TV broadcasts — and transmission of his news conference was cut. “People who want to commit a crime do so in darkness,” Odinga said.

Word of Kibaki’s victory sent some of his supporters onto the streets in celebration. But they were fast outnumbered by furious opposition supporters.

Local TV said 10 people were killed in Kisii, an ethnically-mixed town in Nyanza, Odinga’s ethnic Luo homeland.

Police shot into a crowd in Kisumu, killing another three people, residents and witnesses said. A Reuters reporter was attacked in Kisumu. Some Nairobi shanty-town dwellers called wealthier friends begging for refuge in their homes.

Opposition allegations of rigging had already fuelled two days of ethnic riots. Kibaki’s camp said ODM also rigged votes.

In Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest shantytown, witnesses said protesters burned shacks as they chanted pro-Odinga slogans.

“There’s a lot of heat over here. People are out in their thousands,” Kibera resident Joshua Odutu said against a backdrop of gunshots, whistles and shouting.

“DOUBT REMAINS”

Kenya’s electoral commission (ECK) head, Samuel Kivuitu, declared Kibaki winner amid chaotic scenes at the vote tallying centre. He was then escorted to safety by paramilitary police.

Chief European Union observer Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said doubt remained over the accuracy of the count and the ECK had not established the credibility of the tallying process.

“We regret that it has not been possible to address irregularities about which both the EU and the ECK have evidence ... some doubt remains as to the accuracy of the result of the presidential election as announced today,” he said.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Kenya’s former colonial ruler had “real concerns” at reported irregularities.

After earlier clashes and rumors of a possible declaration of a state of emergency, which last happened after a 1982 coup Odinga says he helped plan, Kenyans mostly stayed at home.

The few supermarkets and food shops that opened were packed with nervous customers earlier on Sunday. Shelves of meat, milk, beer, bottled water and other provisions emptied fast.

“This is the saddest day in the history of democracy in this country,” said local analyst Koki Muli. “It is a coup d’etat.”

Opposition supporters run to protest as their the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga lost the elections in Nairobi's Kibera slum, December 30, 2007. Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki won a second five-year term on Sunday in a disputed election victory that triggered deadly riots by tens of thousands of opposition supporters. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Robert Shaw, a Kenya-based economic analyst, said all the evidence showed the poll was flawed and there was “no real confirmation” Kibaki won. He forecast trying times ahead: “We are in for a period of violence and turbulence, without doubt.”

Business leaders said this weekend’s tribal clashes were costing more than $30 million a day in lost taxes — not to mention looting damage — and threatened investment in Kenya.

One election observer who asked not to be named said they were “in very little doubt” there had been rigging.

Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Kisumu, Katie Nguyen, Nicolo Gnecchi, Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, Duncan Miriri, Bryson Hull, Andrew Cawthorne, George Obulutsa and Tim Cocks; Editing by Matthew Tostevin

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