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Major Protest in Kenya Postponed as Frustrations Build

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A disputed presidential election has Kenya natives worried and tourists leaving the country. The opposition party is calling for new elections, following a spate of violence. Video by AP

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By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 4, 2008

NAIROBI, Jan. 3 -- Along with tens of thousands of others eager to protest an election they say was rigged, Michael Ondeng set off for an opposition rally three times Thursday.

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The young man, a white handkerchief tied to his wrist, marched in the crowd out of Kibera, the rusty slum where he lives, only to be beaten back by police batons, choked with tear gas and finally frightened away by live bullets.

By late afternoon, the rally postponed, Ondeng sat at the edge of Kibera, staring at rows of police officers.

"We were ready to go peacefully -- but I'm not going to wear this peace thing anymore," he said, untying the white handkerchief, pieces of which he had torn off to wipe his eyes, which were burning from the tear gas. "Now, we are going to riot and riot until we die."

It had been four days since President Mwai Kibaki was declared the election winner amid charges of vote-rigging, plunging Kenya into one of its worst crises since independence from Britain in 1963. Thursday brought another day of scrambling for a political solution.

The opposition rally was postponed at the last minute, after the government refused to allow it and massive clashes with police had seemed inevitable. Opposition leaders vowed to try again on Friday.

Soon after, the Kenyan attorney general called for an independent inquiry into the tally from last Thursday's vote. Opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected the call, saying he did not trust the government.

Odinga agreed to international mediation with Kibaki, but Kibaki rejected that idea, saying Kenya did not need outside help.

Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa called for peace, Amnesty International condemned the violence between rival tribes and throngs of diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, urged a political solution.

As the black smoke of bonfires drifted through not just Nairobi's slums but also the green, manicured enclaves of the city's elite, Kibaki appeared on television, saying he would meet with Odinga after tensions in the country eased.

Whether any of the gestures would calm the ethnically charged violence and simmering frustrations remained unclear.

Certainly none of it seemed to matter much to Ondeng, who, like many Odinga supporters, said the only solution was for his candidate to become president.


CONTINUED     1        >


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