Kenya Riot Police Fire Tear Gas, Water Cannons After Violence Claims 300

Police used tear gas, water cannons and batons Thursday to block thousands of people from protesting Kenya's disputed election amid a political deadlock between the president and his chief rival. Kenya's attorney general said there should be an independent probe of the election results because of the perception the Dec. 27 vote was rigged. The U.S. and Europe pushed for reconciliation, saying a "made-in-Kenya solution" was needed to end violence that has killed about 300 people since President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner.

As the diplomats discussed unity, Kenya's slums burned.

"War is happening here," said 45-year-old Edwin Mukathia, who was among thousands of people who poured out of Nairobi's slums to heed opposition candidate Raila Odinga's call for a million-man march in the city's Uhuru Park.

But Mukathia and the others were kept at bay by riot police, who choked off the roads and fired live bullets over their heads. The opposition canceled the march but said they would hold it Friday, setting the stage for another day of upheaval stretching from the capital to the coast to the western highlands.

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The conflict has brought condemnation from diplomats across the globe as one of Africa's top tourist draws and most stable democracies descends into chaos.

The images of burning churches, machete-wielding gangs and looters making off with fuel are common in a region encompassing Somalia and Sudan, but unusual for Kenya.

Smoke from burning tires and debris rose from barricaded streets, around Nairobi's huge slums, where hundreds of thousands of Odinga's supporters live, as well as on main roads leading into suburbs that are home to upper class Kenyans and expatriates.

In Mathare slum, rival groups of men hurled rocks at each other. Black smoke billowed from a burning gas station, and several charred cars sat on roads. The corpse of at least one man lay face down on a muddy path, and a wailing wife pulled her battered husband from the dark waters of the Nairobi River, where he had been dumped and left for dead.

"There is no food, there is no water," said Peter Ochieng, 37, who lives in Kibera slum, home to tens of thousands of opposition supporters. "People here are dying."

The election dispute has degenerated into violence pitting Kibaki's influential Kikuyus against Odinga's Luos and other tribes.

Kenya's electoral commission said Kibaki had won the Dec. 27 election, but Odinga alleged the vote was rigged. Foreign observers have questioned the vote count, as has the chief of Kenya's electoral commission.

Attorney General Amos Wako called for an independent probe.

"Because of the perception that the presidential results were rigged, it is necessary ... that a proper tally of the valid certificates returned and confirmed should be undertaken immediately" by an independent body, he said.

Wako did not elaborate or say whether an independent body would include foreign observers, and it was unclear whether he had Kibaki's backing or had made the statement independently.

Wako, who was appointed to the lifetime post by former President Daniel arap Moi, has been seen as close to Kibaki. The decision to launch an independent probe was a surprise and could reflect the seriousness of the vote-rigging allegations.

But the government has a long history of appointing independent commissions to investigate wrongdoing, only to have them take years and end with reports that are never released and have no practical effects.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press he had "no problem" with Wako's call. But Odinga's spokesman, Salim Lone, rejected it, saying his party had "no faith in any government institution."

As attempts at mediating the crisis gained momentum, Kibaki said he was willing to hold talks though he was vague on who he would talk to.

"I am ready to have dialogue with concerned parties once the nation is calm and the political temperatures are lowered enough for constructive and productive engagement," Kibaki said.

South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu flew to Nairobi and met Odinga, saying afterward that the opposition candidate was ready for "the possibility of mediation." Tutu gave no details but said he hoped to meet Kibaki as well.

Mutua said Kibaki had no plans yet for such a meeting and that Kenya had no need for mediators.

"We are not in a civil war," he said.

The State Department said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made three telephone calls Thursday to discuss developments in Kenya: one to Kibaki, one to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and one to the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger.

The State Department said Rice and Solana agreed on the need for political reconciliation but neither had specifically endorsed the formation of coalition or a government of national unity.

"We're not going to be prescriptive here," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "They do need to come together, they need to broker some political solution to the political crisis," he added. "Fundamentally, this needs to be a 'made-in-Kenya' solution."

Despite diplomatic talk of reconciliation, Kenya's slums were embroiled in violence. In Kibera, two churches were set on fire and burnt-out cars blocked roads.

"Politics has nothing to do with God," said 22-year-old Isaac Oronga, as he watched the fire consume the Lutheran church where he was baptized and where his parents were married.

Police pushed back several hundred people from Kibera holding branches and white flags symbolizing peace. Some burned an effigy of Kibaki and waved placards denouncing him as the devil.

"Without Raila, there will be no peace," said protester Edward Muli, 22.

Hundreds of young men marched in the coastal resort of Mombasa but were quickly repulsed by security forces. Police shot one protester in the head and he was taken to a hospital, said witness Moses Baya.

Odinga toured Nairobi's city mortuary, where there were piles of bodies of babies, children, young men and women. Some were burned, while others had head wounds. Many did not have visible wounds. It was unclear when they had died, but opposition officials said some were killed Thursday.

"What we have just seen defies description," Odinga said after the visit. "We can only describe it as genocide on a grand scale."