News 2008


Kenyan opposition MP shot dead, clashes erupt

Tue 29 Jan 2008, 11:47 GMT

NAIVASHA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan military helicopters swooped over machete-wielding crowds terrorising hundreds of refugees in a lakeside town on Tuesday against a backdrop of spiralling violence in the east African country.

With tribal violence and score-settling spreading across the nation of 36 million people, President Mwai Kibaki appealed to all Kenyans to maintain peace.

But opposition leader Raila Odinga warned Kenya was "drifting into a state of anarchy."

Reuters reporters in Naivasha said two helicopters dive-bombed the crowd several times, firing what police said were rubber bullets at a mob of about 600 people brandishing machetes and clubs at members of another tribe.

The incident came as police trucks prepared to evacuate about 300 Luo refugees to safety from the mainly Kikuyu crowd.

The helicopter attack drove the Kikuyu crowd back.

Earlier, fresh ethnic violence broke out in Nairobi's Kibera slum after a Kenyan opposition politician was killed at his Nairobi home in the early hours.

Melitus Were, a newly elected member of parliament for Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), was shot twice in the head as he reached the gate of his house shortly after midnight.

Kibaki, in his statement, condemned Were's killing as "a heinous crime" that would be swiftly investigated.

But an ODM spokesman said, without offering evidence, that Were may have been targeted by political foes.

Government officials did not immediately comment.

Hours after Were's death, rival ethnic gangs began fighting in Nairobi's Kibera slum, near where he was shot.

A Reuters witness saw seven corpses, some with cuts on the head and neck. One of them lay in agony on the ground after being forcibly circumcised, before dying.


Unrest also simmered across the volatile Rift Valley, with mobs ransacking homes, burning belongings and threatening people trying to flee Naivasha town, north of the capital.

A Reuters witness saw a man hacked to death with machetes.

Around 850 people have been killed since a December election which re-installed Kibaki in power but which the opposition says was rigged.

The violence has taken on a momentum of its own, with cycles of killing between tribes who have never reconciled divisions over land, wealth and power left by British colonial rule and exacerbated by politicians in 44 years of independence.

The turmoil has dented one of Africa's brightest economies -- hotels in a previously booming tourist sector are empty, and the local currency came close to a three-year low on Tuesday.

Former U.N. head Kofi Annan is spearheading attempts to mediate between Kibaki's government and the opposition led by Odinga. An Annan spokesman said negotiating teams would begin "formal dialogue" on Tuesday afternoon.

Police fired teargas to disperse mourners and supporters of Were gathered near the politician's house in a middle-class suburb on the edge of Kibera slum. Some of them had taunted police officers.

"There's no justice in Kenya. For whoever killed my husband, God is there," said Wairimu Were, the MP's wife.


In Naivasha, about an hour's drive north of Nairobi, crowds ransacked homes and burned belongings of people fleeing the lakeside town, a Reuters witness said.

Plumes of smoke rose from different parts, as members of Kibaki's Kikuyu group hunted down Luos, Luhyas and Kalenjins whose communities have largely backed Odinga. Police opened fire to disperse one mob trying to attack a truck carrying refugees.

Nearly 100 people have died in the latest flare-up over recent days in the Rift Valley. Fighting has been largely centred on the towns of Naivasha and Nakuru, better known for their lakes and wildlife, but now deserted by tourists.

In horrific images round the Rift, one mother lay in a pool of blood in a Nakuru shack, as her baby cried on a chair nearby. In Naivasha, a man entered a clinic with an arrow in his head.

Protests also rocked the western opposition stronghold town of Kisumu on Monday, residents said. Police fired in the air and one demonstrator died in the morning, residents said.

"What is alarming about the last few days is that there are evidently hidden hands organising it now. Militias are appearing ... the targeting is very specific," Britain's Africa Minister Mark Malloch Brown said during a visit to Kenya.

Both sides have traded accusations of genocide in a standoff that has shocked world leaders, who had long viewed Kenya as a peacemaker, rather than a problem, on a volatile continent.

About 250,000 people have been displaced by the violence.

Official results showed Kibaki narrowly won the December 27 vote, but Odinga says victory was stolen from him by vote-rigging. International observers said the poll was flawed and diplomats are pushing for a power-sharing arrangement.