NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 31, 2007— -- Thousands of angry Kenyans waving branches and wielding machetes battled police and marched in the streets of the capital and other cities today to protest what they claim was a rigged election giving President Mwai Kibaki a second term.
The protests threatened to erupt in widespread tribal violence, and neither side was backing down.
Kibaki's challenger, Raila Odinga, is refusing to concede the election. He stated yesterday that he would be conducting a shadow inauguration today in Uhuru park in downtown Nairobi but canceled those plans after the government declared that it would be tantamount to a coup. Odinga announced instead that he would lead a million people in a mass, peaceful demonstration Thursday.
The protests have not been peaceful and 149 people are reported dead.
In Kibera, Kenya'a largest slum and Odinga's stronghold, thousands of protesters marched through the area right outside Nairobi, brandishing branches and machetes.
"Raila! ODM!" The men screamed as they charged toward dozens of military police in riot gear. The military police did not retreat, shooting tear gas and spraying the crowd with water from a tank to turn it back. Police officers arrived behind the military, jumping out of police cars and shooting rifles in the air. One officer chased down a protester in an alleyway, beating him with a branch.
Most of the ethnic violence has been against the Kikuyu, a powerful tribe that Kibaki belongs to.
Other tribes, including the Luo, the historically marginalized tribe that includes Odinga, are furious at what they feel was a rigged election. More and more witnesses are reporting reprisal attacks by Kikuyus, causing worry that the entire country will explode in ethnic violence.
"It is a sad time for our country," said John Ngono, a clerk at a local supermarket.
In Kisumu, the largest city in western Kenya, which is largely Luo, at least 53 people are dead, primarily from gunshot wounds. The government has imposed a curfew on the city with orders to shoot anyone who violates it.
In Mombasa, the picturesque coastal tourist city, witnesses report at least six people have been hacked to death.
Kibaki issued a press statement stating that his government will "deal decisively with those who breach the peace." He told of plans to increase security throughout the country.
Kibaki was sworn in only an hour after being announced the winner in the most competitive presidential race in the country's 44-year history since independence. He takes office under a cloud of suspicion and allegations of electoral fraud. Within 15 minutes of his swearing in, plumes of black smoke could be seen in Nairobi from slum areas that supported Odinga
Local media outlets are under an order by the government to suspend all live broadcasts and have been told not to air any footage deemed "inciteful or alarming."
European Union election observers have cast doubts on the legitimacy of President Kibaki's win. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the chief EU election observer, told reporters that the tallying of the elections was "troubling." British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also issued a statement expressing "real concerns" over the results.
Though the United States has congratulated President Kibaki on his win, the embassy issued a statement today urging Odinga and his party to pursue vote-tampering allegations in the Kenyan court system and called for the judiciary to act "expeditiously."
"The last 48 hours have been some of the saddest hours in the history of this country, because Kenyans have seen democracy shackled, eventually strangled and finally buried," said Odinga.