Kenya Elections, Neck-And-Neck

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The opposition led early tallies, but as Kibaki narrowed the gap overnight, Odinga's party said it feared fraud.

[International: Kenya]



Kenya's presidential rivals were neck-and-neck on Saturday with nearly 90 percent of official results counted as accusations of rigging ignited ethnic violence across the east African nation.

Chaos reigned as the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced latest results showing opposition challenger Raila Odinga leading President Mwai Kibaki by just 38,000 votes on a tally of 180 of a total 210 constituencies.

But the ECK head was interrupted after reading tallies from seven other constituencies that would have put Kibaki in the lead by about four times as big a margin.

Scuffles broke out and police moved in after an opposition politician heckled ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu and repeatedly demanded a recount in one constituency.

"Nobody can push me, not even you!" Kivuitu told scores of party agents, politicians and journalists packed into a Nairobi conference centre ringed by armed guards.

The ECK gave Odinga 3.88 million votes to 3.84 million for the president from the 180 constituency results.

Delays announcing official results fuelled tensions across the nation, with political parties trading rigging accusations and riots erupting in most major cities.

Both Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) had earlier claimed victory and the leadership of the region's biggest economy for the next five years, citing their own agents' reports.

Meanwhile, youths from rival tribes fought, looted and burned homes, mostly in opposition strongholds. Police fired teargas and several people died in scenes marring what foreign observers had praised as broadly peaceful polls on Thursday.

If Odinga -- a wealthy businessman who paints himself as a champion of the poor -- fulfils a long-held ambition to lead Kenya, Kibaki would become the first of the country's three post-independence leaders to be ejected by the ballot box.




The opposition led early tallies, but as Kibaki narrowed the gap overnight, Odinga's party said it feared fraud.

From Kisumu in the west to Mombasa on the coast and many towns in between, trouble broke out on Saturday pitting Odinga's Luo supporters against members of Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group.

The tribes, two of Kenya's biggest, have a long history of rivalry during the country's four decades of independence.

"We are sensing a plan to rig the elections," taxi cyclist Eric Ochieng, 18, told Reuters in the middle of riots in Kisumu city, in Odinga's homeland. "We will not accept this."

Residents said one person was killed in Kisumu -- a normally sleepy city by Lake Victoria -- as hundreds of youths took to the streets, burning tyres, ransacking shops and blocking roads.

"The government has failed to declare Odinga the winner," said 11-year-old Kennedy Ochieng, stumbling under the weight of a box of clothes, mobile phone chargers and other stolen goods.

"They stole our votes so we are looting everything we can."

As black smoke billowed overhead, one crowd waved machetes and yelled "Death to Kikuyus". Young boys swigged looted beer.

"We have just started. We will loot all Kikuyu shops and kill them on sight," said Richard Ondigi, 23, a driver.

Locals said two people were killed in another hotbed of support for Odinga, Nairobi's huge Kibera shantytown, where shots were fired and dozens of shacks burned to the ground.

Groups of youths protested elsewhere in Nairobi and city centre streets were near deserted as business owners pulled down their shutters. Truckloads of military police patrolled.

If Odinga does seal victory, he will realise a dream that eluded his late father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a nationalist hero who became vice-president. Kibaki says he will double economic growth for Kenyans if he is re-elected.

The inauguration of Kenya's next president will take place in days. If it is Odinga, his priority will be to enlist support of the economically powerful Kikuyus, ensure a peaceful handover and allay business fears that he is a left-wing radical.

Kibaki would have a tough time appeasing the opposition if he returns to State House.

The ECK forecast record turnout figures for what became Kenya's tightest race since British colonial rule ended in 1963. (Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Kisumu; Noor Khamis, Tim Cocks, Bryson Hull, George Obulutsa, Joseph Sudah, Duncan Miriri, Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Nicolo Gnecchi in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)



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