January 03, 2008

Kenya's attorney general calls for election recount

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Kenya's attorney general is calling for a recount and independent investigation into the country's election after violent protests that have left more than 300 people dead, his office said in a statement Thursday.

Amos Wako is also calling for a government of national unity, the statement said.

Wako, who has been Kenya's attorney general since 1991, oversaw the nation's transition from one-party rule to democracy that year. And under his watch in 2002, an incumbent party was ousted by the opposition in national elections, according to Wako's government Web site.

Kenya President Mwai Kibaki on Sunday was declared the victor in the December 27 election in which he faced Raila Odinga of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, sparking outrage that has led to violent clashes between government troops and opposition supporters.

Wako's statement came on the same day that Odinga's party called off its planned "million man" rally in Nairobi and urged its supporters to go home.

Odinga's supporters had been blocked from getting to the rally in Nairobi's city center by government forces who used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.

"We are a peaceful people who do not want violence," William Ruto, a top official with Odinga's party told The Associated Press.

"That is why we are peacefully dispersing now."

Odinga called the meeting despite a government ban on such gatherings, having been forced to abandon his first attempt on Monday soon after the onset of the conflict.

Despite this week's two failed gatherings, the ODM now hopes to hold one next Tuesday to protest the result of the elections, in which Kibaki controversially retained power.

"All Kenyans are invited to Uhuru Park," a statement on Odinga's campaign Web site had said ahead of the rally, as party officials expected at least a million people to attend.

The crowds were gathering as Archbishop Desmond Tutu began meeting with opposition officials, including Odinga, in an effort to mediate the election dispute.

"We've come to express our solidarity with the people of Kenya to express our sympathy at the carnage that has happened, hoping that we will be able to encourage the leadership to take action that would stop that carnage," Tutu said.

It was not immediately clear if the Nobel laureate would also talk with Kibaki's party. A government spokesman said a meeting could be arranged with Tutu if it would help with the process.

Odinga's supporters had slowly made their way to Uhuru Park for the rally, but were met by government security forces.

"There are fewer protesters here than there are guards," journalist David McKenzie said from the Nairobi slum of Kibera before the rally was canceled.

"But earlier, tear gas was thrown at them, and then there were running battles up and down the street ... with water cannon spraying and dispersing the people here."

There were also reports of government troops firing live rounds above protesters' heads, as the smoke of tires being burned in protest began to choke the air over the capital. Flames also could be seen leaping from some of the shacks that fill the capital's slums.

As many as 75,000 people have been internally displaced by the violence, the government said on Tuesday.

The government banned political gatherings before the elections, and the ban will remain in place "until the current security situation normalizes," government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Tuesday.

Violence erupted in the normally peaceful African country over the weekend, as frustration mounted at the slow pace of vote counting. It came to a head after the nation's Election Commission announced Sunday that the incumbent Kibaki won with 51.3 percent of the vote, while Odinga had 48.7 percent.

Since then, more than 200 people have been killed, the government said, but other accounts put the death toll at more than 300.

On Wednesday, Kenya's police commissioner issued a reminder to citizens that the rally for Odinga's party "has not been authorized and is therefore illegal."

Turbulence was also reported Wednesday in the Nairobi suburb of Muthare, a government stronghold, where youths were seen carrying machetes.

Video and pictures sent by CNN viewers in Kenya showed deserted streets and looted stores. Some Nairobi residents described the situation as relatively calm but said they could hear sporadic gunfire.

Groups have also set up unofficial roadblocks and barricades, making it difficult for the Red Cross to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance, the organization said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the government has halted all live broadcasts in the country, part of an effort to bring tensions down. The ODM called the move a "direct curtailment of freedom of expression rights that contravenes provisions of our constitution."

A local reporter on Wednesday told CNN he witnessed youths from minority ethnic groups manning checkpoints outside Eldoret, about 185 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Nairobi, and refusing entry to members of the Kikuyu ethnic group.

Kenyans are required to carry identification cards, and a person's name often indicates what ethnic group they are from.

Kibaki is a member of the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group which comprises roughly 22 percent of the country's population. Odinga belongs to the Luo group, which makes up about 13 percent of Kenya's population.

CNN's Matthew Chance, Paula Newton and journalist David McKenzie contributed

CNN News

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