Sunday, January 13, 2008

East African bloc calls for Kenya vote probe

Sun Jan 13, 2008 10:11am EST
By Daniel Wallis

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A five-nation East African bloc wants "suspect" actions during vote tallying from Kenya's disputed presidential polls investigated and guilty parties held accountable, it said in a report.

Riots and ethnic clashes have killed 500 people across Kenya since President Mwai Kibaki's re-election following the December 27 ballot, which his rival Raila Odinga says was rigged.

The crisis has choked supplies of fuel and other goods to a swathe of east African countries, and forced more than 6,000 refugees into neighboring Uganda alone.

"The Post Polling Period was characterized by uncoordinated and suspect actions," East African Community observers said in a report seen by Reuters on Sunday, citing statements by Kenya's electoral commission (ECK) chairman, who said he could not trace some returning officers who had vanished with crucial paperwork.

It said ECK boss Samuel Kivuitu displayed "incompetence and weakness". His actions, combined with the delay announcing the results, amounted to "gross mismanagement" of the vote counting.

"This critically undermined the credibility of the final stage of the electoral process," said the report by the EAC, which groups Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

"The anomalies cited in the tallying process should be investigated and the ECK officials or any other persons found to be responsible should be held accountable."

The wave of unrest since the ballot, which international observers said was flawed, has dented the democratic credentials of east Africa's biggest economy and shocked world powers.

The United Nations says 250,000 Kenyans have been uprooted by the violence and that half a million will need emergency aid including food handouts.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due in Nairobi this week to lead a new push for peace after AU chairman and Ghanaian President John Kufuor failed to broker a deal.


Addressing hundreds of cheering worshippers at a Pentecostal church in the capital on Sunday, Odinga said his side was ready to talk, but only if the discussions would bring justice.

"The world has been watching what you can call the theatre of the absurd ... Kenyans spoke, Kenyans wanted change and Kenyans will get a change," Odinga said. "I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Upping the stakes on Friday, his party called for three days of nationwide protests beginning on Wednesday in defiance of a police ban on all political rallies. It also demanded international sanctions be imposed on Kibaki's administration.

On Saturday, the European Union and United States warned that there could be "no business as usual" with Nairobi unless a political compromise was agreed that restored stability. Kibaki and Odinga have not met face-to-face since the crisis began.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, said both men should acknowledge serious irregularities in the vote count that made it impossible to know with certainty who had won.
An EU source told Reuters it was too early to talk about sanctions. But the source said that if there was no positive outcome from Annan's mission, the EU would "seriously review" its relations with Kenya, including the issue of sanctions.

On Sunday, a U.S.-based rights group said Kenya's government should order police not to use lethal force against protesters.

"Kenyan security forces have a duty to rein in criminal violence and should protect people, but they shouldn't turn their weapons on peaceful protesters," Human Rights Watch (HRW) acting Africa director Georgette Gagnon said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Sudah; Editing by Charles Dick)

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