Monday, January 14, 2008

Kenya braces for tough week, deaths rise to 612

Mon Jan 14, 2008 6:09am EST

(adds Odinga, government officials)

By Andrew Cawthorne and Katie Nguyen

NAIROBI, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Kenya's feuding parties prepared on Monday for fresh fighting in parliament and on the streets despite another international push to mediate a post-election crisis that has now killed at least 612 people.

But the priority for many in the east African nation was getting millions of children back to school after a week's delay following the turmoil caused by President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election last month.

"Life has to go on," said Esther Muhito, preparing her children for classes in Molo, a town in the Rift Valley where ethnic clashes have killed scores. In some camps housing refugees, volunteers were setting up temporary classrooms.

Scores of others, however, were still fleeing the same tea-growing area, fearful the opposition's call for three days of nationwide protests starting on Wednesday would stoke more bloodshed.

Police have banned the rallies.

The crisis has dented Kenya's democratic credentials and resurgent economy, hit supplies to east and central African neighbours, and rattled Western donors.

Rachel Arungah, chairwoman of the government's Humanitarian Services Committee, told Reuters the death toll stood at 612 on Monday. But local media said it was higher, at 693.

Most of the deaths have come from fighting between rival ethnic communities, clashes between police and protesters, as well as looting and mob violence.

The number of refugees had dropped, as some people return to their homes, to 199,204, Arungah added.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was due in Kenya on Tuesday or Wednesday as the head of an "Eminent Africans" group to kickstart dialogue between Kibaki and opposition rival Raila Odinga, who have not met since the Dec. 27 vote.

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