Millions vote in Kenyan elections

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NAIROBI, KENYA — Millions of Kenyans poured into polling stations on Monday to cast their votes in a crucial, anxiously-awaited presidential election, and while the voting proceeded relatively smoothly, at least six police officers were killed in attacks.

 Turnout was tremendous, election officials said, starting hours before dawn, with lines of voters stretching nearly a mile long.

In the Kibera slum, a sprawling settlement of rusted shanties and footpaths, some people waited nine hours on their feet under a withering sun. “We’re tired ! We’re tired!” they yelled, but still, they stayed in their places, with no food or drink, determined to vote.

“People didn’t come in a trickle, they flooded,” said Njeri Kabeberi, the head of the Center for Multiparty Democracy — Kenya, a non-profit organization.

Ms. Kabeberi said the voting was slow in many places but orderly and that overall the election was going “very, very well.”

This is Kenya’s first presidential vote since 2007, when a dubious election, marred by widespread evidence of vote rigging, set off ethnic clashes that swept across the country and killed more than 1,000 people. Many Kenyans have worried that history could repeat itself, and in the past week, the atmosphere in Nairobi has been almost like a hurricane about to hit.

Flour, rice, bread and other staples have been stripped from supermarket shelves as families stock up on supplies, in case riots break out. Many people have fled ethnically mixed urban areas, fearing reprisal killings should the vote go awry.

On Monday, the worst violence erupted on Kenya’s coast, but it was not clear how connected it was to the voting. Police officials said that a large gang — possibly up to 200 people — ambushed a patrol in the port city of Mombasa early Monday morning while it was still dark, and killed four officers with machetes. At least two other police officers were killed in other coastal locations and authorities immediately blamed the Mombasa Republican Council, a fringe separatist group that had opposed the elections and believes that Kenya’s coastal zone should be a separate country.

Some Western election observers in Mombasa then pulled back to their hotels because of security concerns. Analysts said the separatists may have timed their attack to exploit the election and the fact that Kenya’s security services were stretched extremely thin, with a rifle-toting security officer perched at the door of every polling station — and there were more than 30,000 stations nationwide.

 

Source: NY Times

Image: NY Times

04 March 2013

08:30am PDT

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