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IN THE NEWS - Kenya Election Violence Threatens Gains in East Africa's Top Economy

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The violence this week in Kenya has thrown the usually peaceful country into crisis. Its economic and democratic progress may be in danger.

The crisis began Sunday after election officials declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner of a second term. On Friday Kenya's main opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement, called for a new election.

Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga riot in the Mathare slum in Nairobi
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga riot in the Mathare slum in Nairobi

Its candidate in the December twenty-seventh election, Raila Odinga, held the lead in early vote totals. He says the narrow victory for Mister Kibaki was the result of cheating.

A spokesman for the president said the government will accept another election if a court orders a new vote.

On Thursday, Kenya's attorney general, Amos Wako, called for independent confirmation of the election results. But he said only a court had the power to cancel Mister Kibaki's victory. Kenyans first elected him in two thousand two on a promise to fight corruption.

More than three hundred people have been killed in Nairobi, the Rift Valley and Mombasa. The violence has involved fighting between police and protesters and between ethnic groups.

There are fears of wider conflict between Luos, who support Mister Odinga, and Kikuyus, who support the president. Both sides have accused each other of acts of genocide.

On Tuesday, a mob set fire to a church in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley. At least thirty Kikuyu children and adults burned to death. They had gone to the church seeking safety.

The United Nations said the unrest has displaced two hundred fifty thousand people within Kenya. Several thousand people are believed to have fled to Uganda in recent days.

Travelers prepare to fly home from Mombasa as unrest affects Kenya's tourism industry
Travelers prepare to fly home from Mombasa as unrest affects Kenya's tourism industry

Kenya became independent from Britain in nineteen sixty-three. It has the largest economy in East Africa, and in recent years has been the area's most politically secure country.

Kenya has held multiparty elections since nineteen ninety-two. But Kikuyus have long ruled the country, both politically and financially.

The Kikuyu tribe is the largest of more than forty ethnic groups in Kenya. Twenty-two percent of Kenya's estimated thirty-seven million people are Kikuyu.

The United States at first had congratulated President Kibaki on his re-election. Later it withdrew the statement as European Unions observers and others questioned the fairness of the election.

The United States announced it was sending its top diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, to Kenya to appeal for political discussions. Mister Kibaki says he is open to talks with his opponents after the violence has ended.

In some of Kenya's poorest areas, people have begun to say it is time for peace. Kenya has had riots and ethnic conflict in past years. But there are concerns that foreign investors might now lose trust in the country.

The World Bank says it is concerned that the unrest threatens recent gains in economic growth and poverty reduction. A statement from the bank and other development agencies noted that Kenyan media have launched a "Save Our Beloved Country" campaign.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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