(AFP) – Jan 13, 2008
NAIROBI (AFP) — A prominent US-based rights group called on Kenyan authorities Sunday to lift a ban on political rallies ahead of new protests this week, as the death toll from post-election violence topped 700.
Police gave the fresh death toll from violence sparked by December 27 presidential polls after four people died in overnight clashes in the Rift Valley and 100 more bodies were discovered.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to allow rallies led by opposition leader Raila Odinga, which are due to start Wednesday to protest alleged vote-rigging that led to President Mwai Kibaki winning a second five-year term.
Police have outlawed any public meetings since bloody clashes erupted after Kibaki's victory was declared and many feared a showdown with protesters.
Besides the rising death toll, the violence has forced more than 250,000 people to flee their homes.
"The government should defuse tension by immediately lifting the ban on public assembly and allowing the planned demonstrations to go ahead," said Georgette Gagnon, HRW acting chief for Africa.
"The Kenyan government should urgently and publicly order the police to stop using excessive, lethal force against public rallies," she added, after police cracked down on previous rallies with tear gas, truncheons and warning shots.
International pressure is growing on Kibaki and Odinga to break their deadlock and drop all preconditions for face-to-face talks.
"The potential for further bloodshed remains high unless the political crisis is quickly resolved," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
Mediation efforts by African Union chairman John Kufuor failed but he left Nairobi last week stating that the two rivals had agreed to work with a panel, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, "towards resolving their differences."
It remains unclear, however, just what Annan's role would be, with Kibaki rejecting the idea of outside mediation.
"All hope must be given to this mediation," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. He called on Kenya's leaders to "heed reason" and put an end to "more violence and more division".
The turmoil has shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of stability in otherwise restive East Africa, and dealt a serious blow to the region's largest economy.
"The country-wide death toll is more than 700 dead," a top police commander told AFP on Sunday, after 89 more bodies were recovered in the Rift Valley and western provinces.
Four new deaths were meanwhile reported in the Rift Valley overnight.
Eleven people -- including eight members of one family -- were recovered from pit latrines in the volatile Mount Elgon region, police said.
An official from the Kenya Red Cross Society confirmed the new recorded deaths, and revised its official toll from 486 to 575 dead. A tally by AFP meanwhile stands at 704.
Odinga is refusing to recognise Kibaki's re-election or to sit down with him until he admits to fraud.
And he told a packed congregation of some 2,000 supporters at a Nairobi church on Sunday that he would fight on.
"Kenyans spoke for change, Kenyans want change and Kenyans will get change," he said, thanking supporters "for voting so overwhelming for me as president of this country," sparking loud cheers.
Elsewhere in the city, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka -- who until last week led a small opposition party -- warned that organisers would be accountable for the consequences if they did not call off next week's protests.
Many Kenyans have begun stocking up on provisions amid uncertainty over the outcome of the rallies.
Cosmas Mbugua, a 46-year-old mechanical engineer, withdrew extra cash at one Nairobi supermarket and bought supplies of flour, sugar and beans. "It's very uncertain," he said.
Emos Soul, an accountant for the Red Cross, said he expected more violence, as he bought powdered milk and other provisions. "We'd rather suffer another week or month than suffer five more years," he said.
Another expected flashpoint was Tuesday's re-opening of parliament after Kibaki swore in a partial cabinet last week to widespread criticism at home and abroad.
The Kenya Red Cross Society warned Saturday of degenerating conditions for those displaced by the recent unrest, mostly in the west of Kenya and in slums around the capital.
Meanwhile, Odinga's opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party claimed that Uganda had sent troops to Kenya's western region at the request of Kibaki's government ahead of the protests -- something police flatly denied.
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