Gunfire Rings Out in West Kenyan Streets; At Least 25 Bodies Taken to Mortuary

Sporadic gunshots rang out Saturday in this western Kenyan city as those forced from their homes by postelection violence threatened revenge. Police took 16 charred bodies to a mortuary, where onlookers sobbed.

Hundreds of homes were burned down in Nakuru, the regional capital of the Rift Valley, the area that has seen some of the worst clashes between members of President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and other groups who accuse the president of stealing Dec. 27 elections.

Nakuru, a city of 300,000, had until now been spared the political violence. But fighting broke out late Thursday when people heard Kibaki was insisting he was Kenya's "duly elected president," said Pastor Richard Nato of the African Faith Gospel Church.

Across the country, the riots and ethnic fighting that followed the election have killed at least 685 people and forced 255,000 from their homes, with violence convulsing the capital, the coast and the western highlands.

Police brought the 16 charred bodies, some missing limbs, to the Nakuru mortuary Saturday but would not say where they came from. Nine bodies were also taken to the morgue Friday afternoon, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Men at the mortuary wept as the burned bodies were taken from a truck.

"We are planning revenge, we are searching for weapons," said 23-year-old Njenga, who refused to give his last name for fear of reprisals.

He was among hundreds of people taking refuge at the Catholic church of Nakuru after their homes were reduced to a smoldering rubble Friday. Soldiers began patrolling the streets while a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed. A barrier of rocks and wood blocked a main road Saturday.

As the violence raged, Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga remained far apart on the central question of who won the Dec. 27 election.

The two rivals are under international pressure to find a way to share power, but Odinga has insisted that new elections were the only way to restore peace. Kibaki, on the other hand, has made clear that he will not give up his position as head of state.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is in Kenya to mediate talks between the two leaders, visited troubled spots in the western Rift Valley on Saturday.

Annan flew by helicopter to Molo, where some 50,000 people have been chased from their homes in ethnic clashes in recent days, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society's secretary-general, Abbas Gullet. The Kikuyu are resented by many for their domination of politics and the economy.

Half of Total Station, a nearby town, was burned down Thursday night, and at least two people were killed and 50 wounded by clubs and machetes, Gullet said. The area is about 100 miles of Nairobi, the capital.

The police commander for Molo, Achesa Litabalia, said Kiyuku members attacked ethnic Kalenjins near Molo overnight and three of the attackers were killed.

On Thursday, Kibaki and Odinga held talks for the first time since the election, with Annan as mediator. Immediately afterward, Kibaki made clear his position as president was not negotiable.

In an interview Friday with National Public Radio, Odinga insisted Kibaki must step down or allow new elections.

"Presidential elections ... will settle this issue once and for all," Odinga said. "Kenya is aflame, and there'll be no peace in Kenya until this matter is settled satisfactorily."