Gunfire rings out in Kenyan streets


Furniture and other belongings fill the yard of a church where dozens of families who had their houses burned down, or fled for safety, are now living, in Nakuru, Kenya, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. Gunfire erupted in the town and young men vowed revenge as the death toll from two days of bloodshed in western Kenya's main town reached at least 25, including 16 charred bodies unloaded at the morgue from the back of a truck. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

AP
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:42 p.m.

NAKURU, Kenya - Men sobbed as police unloaded 16 charred bodies at a mortuary in this western Kenyan city. People with machete and arrow wounds overwhelmed the main hospital and were forced to share beds. Hundreds of homeless took shelter at a church.

And even as Nakuri struggled to recover from an explosion of political violence, there were signs Saturday that it was far from over. Those whose homes were burned vowed revenge. Gunshots rang out, and youths with sticks manned roadblocks.

At least 25 people were killed when the turmoil over Kenya's deeply flawed presidential election finally reached Nakuru, the country's fourth-largest city that had largely been spared the unrest. Men fought street battles with homemade guns, machetes and bow and arrows, while mobs torched hundreds of homes.

At the city mortuary, police wearing rubber gloves unloaded 16 burned bodies. Men standing by broke down in tears.

"I have never experienced this in my country," one man said, his face marked with grief. "I just pray that our leaders end this thing immediately."

Riots and ethnic fighting following the Dec. 27 vote have killed more than 700 people nationwide and forced 255,000 from their homes.

Much of the violence has pitted ethnic groups who support the opposition against President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long dominant in Kenyan politics and the economy. Opposition leader Raila Odinga accuses Kibaki of stealing the election, and local and foreign observers have said the vote tally was rigged.

Kibaki and Odinga remain far apart on the question of who won the election. Both men are under international pressure to find a way to share power. But Odinga is insisting that new elections are the only way to restore peace.

While ethnic clashes have accompanied past Kenyan elections, the scale of the violence this year has been far worse. It has destroyed the East African nation's image as a peaceful haven in a region rife with conflict.

"We cannot accept the pattern every five years these sorts of incidents take place and no one is held to account," said former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been trying to broker talks between Kibaki and Odinga. "Let's not kid ourselves this is an electoral problem. This is much broader."

The fighting in Nakuru, the capital of the Rift Valley with 300,000 people, started late Thursday after Kibaki, emerging from his first talks with Odinga, insisted his position has head of state was not negotiable.

At Nakuru's main hospital, dozens of people with machete and arrow wounds were lying two-to-a-bed Saturday. One man's face was a maze of stitches; he appeared to have been slashed. Bed sheets were soaked in blood.

Michael Ndegwa, 21, thought he found a corpse behind some kiosks Saturday morning when he was walking through town, but when he got closer he saw the body trembling.

"I saw him and he was lying by the side of the road," Ndegwa said, sitting at a hospital with the wounded man, Steven Mwangi. "I carried him here. I thought he was dead."

Mwangi, whose forehead, ear and nose were bandaged, kept his eyes closed as he waited for treatment, tears streaming down his face. He did not speak.

Soldiers patrolled the streets and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed. A barrier of rocks and wood blocked a main road, manned by youths with sticks.

In Naivasha, also in the Rift Valley, scores of youths went on house-to-house searches in a slum, and two people were hacked to death, witnesses said.

At a Catholic church in Nakuru where hundreds were taking shelter, 23-year-old Njenga vowed vengeance. "We are planning revenge, we are searching for weapons," he said, giving only his first name for fear of reprisals.

"Now it will be the survival of the fittest," he said.

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