ELDORET, Kenya – A Kenyan policeman shot and killed an opposition lawmaker Thursday, and while it was described as a crime of passion, the death reignited clashes in this Rift Valley city between police and protesters suspicious of the government, and interrupted talks in the capital aimed at calming the country after a month of postelection violence.
Police said David Too was shot by a traffic police officer who discovered the lawmaker was having an affair with his girlfriend. A woman shot in the same attack also died, a hospital official said.
Too was the second anti-government legislator killed in a week; opposition politicians said both were victims of assassination plots. A Too family spokesman accused the police of a cover-up, saying the lawmaker was not involved with the woman and had feared for his safety.
"Too had expressed fears that his life was in danger, especially during the campaign period as he crisscrossed the constituency to seek votes," said spokesman Julius Langat.
In Eldoret, where Too was shot, 21 people were injured in clashes following the killing, including 13 who were shot, of whom one later died. In Eldoret's main hospital, bloody trails led to overcrowded wards where bandaged victims shared dirty mattresses on the floor because there weren't enough beds.
Kenya has been embroiled in ethnic violence since President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the Dec. 27 election and opposition candidate Raila Odinga, head of Too's party, rejected the result, saying the vote had been rigged.
Much of the bloodshed has pitted other tribes, including Odinga's Luo, against Kibaki's Kikuyu people. Kikuyus, Kenya's largest ethnic group, have long been resented for their dominance of the economy and politics. Western Kenya's Rift Valley has seen some of the worst violence.
Odinga has said he wants a new election, while Kibaki has made clear he will not negotiate his position as president. In Nairobi, negotiators from the two camps began the first day of talks mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But after a morning session, Annan called for a pause until Friday, saying leaders needed to leave to calm their followers following Too's death.
"We will postpone our session this afternoon and work all day tomorrow so they can attend to urgent matters, call constituencies and talk to other people," Annan said.
At a summit in Ethiopia, the head of the African Union warned leaders of the continent they could not stand by while Kenya descended into ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in a strongly worded statement issued in Paris Thursday, called on the U.N. Security Council to act on Kenya, saying France feared what was once the most stable east African country would "sink into a murderous conflict of an ethnic character."
Too's death came two days after another opposition lawmaker, Mugabe Were, was fatally shot as he drove to his house in suburban Nairobi, setting off more violence in the capital's slums and in western regions.
Opposition party secretary-general Anyang Nyongo said there was "an evil scheme" to kill legislators and rob the opposition of its majority in parliament. Legislative elections held the same day as the presidential vote gave the opposition 99 parliament seats to 43 for Kibaki's party.
Were and Too would have been freshmen lawmakers. While both were too new to politics to be seen as particularly influential, they had local followings that helped the, defeat incumbents in hard-fought races.
Police said Too's death was not linked to the political turmoil. Eldoret Deputy Police Chief Gabriel Kuya said the traffic officer had discovered that his girlfriend was having an affair with Too, and chased the pair on his motorcycle when he saw them together in a car.
"He drove toward the side of the woman and shot her in the stomach twice. Her partner (legislator Too) pleaded with the officer not to kill her but he turned his pistol on him instead, hitting him four times in the head," Kuya told the AP.
Langat, the Too family spokesman, said the woman was a police officer and that Too, a former teacher and father of two, had gone to her to seek protection for his family.
"I know the woman who was with Too very well," Langat said, speaking from Too's home village of Chepkoiyo. "In fact she is my relative and there was no way that she was involved with the legislator in a love triangle."
In Eldoret following his death, protesters erected a road block outside the hospital with large rocks and a lumber yard belonging to a Kikuyu businessman was torched. Outside the main police station, about 40 people lay in the gravel trying to sleep after fleeing violence in the nearby town of Nakuru.
Helen Kidogo said: "I'm scared for my children. People are burning houses, killing people and burning them." She cuddled her 11-month-old son and her 6-year-old daughter watched from the shadow of the police station. The family had fled without anything and had no blankets.
Orwe Collins, a 23-year-old mechanic watching the smoldering ruins of the lumber yard, said, "the violence can't stop. Life is not back to normal. We are ready to die for change. The situation can go from calm to bad in a minute, like when this MP was shot today. It was peaceful this morning."
Violence also spread to areas near Too's home village and the western city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold. Police and protesters lobbing stones at them engaged in running battles, then police fired into the crowd as a reporter watched. He saw a middle-aged man, shot in the stomach, lying in the street.
A protester, Jane Akelo, said she saw an officer shoot a teenager in the head and the youth died on the spot. She said she saw another body lying on the road.
The U.S. State Department said Thursday it had authorized its non-emergency personnel and family members to relocate from the western town of Kisumu to Nairobi, indicating that while it believed the situation in the west had deteriorated, the nation as a whole was not yet at the point where embassy staff needed to evacuate.