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Kenyans riot as Kibaki declared poll winner
A bible-toting woman preaches to a crowd of protesters as she stands by riot police in the Mathare slum in Nairobi. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP
Kenya was plunged into crisis yesterday after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of a presidential election, amid allegations of fraud and vote rigging. Violence erupted in various parts of the country as opposition supporters took to the streets at the news that Kibaki had been sworn in for a second five-year term.
In Nairobi's slums, protesters clashed with hundreds of riot police who had sealed off the election commission headquarters ahead of the result announcement, evicting party agents, observers and the media.
Kibaki, who had trailed in all the opinion polls and all but the final count yesterday, was given 4,584,721 votes to the 4,352,993 tally of the opposition leader Raila Odinga. Odinga, a fiery former political prisoner, rejected the result, claiming massive rigging by the government.
A joint statement by the British Foreign Office and Department for International Development cited "real concerns" over irregularities, while international observers refused to declare the election free and fair. The European Union chief observer, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, cited one constituency where his monitors saw official results for Kibaki that were 25,000 votes lower than the figure subsequently announced by the electoral commission.
"Because of this and other observed irregularities, doubt remains as to the accuracy of the result of the presidential election as announced today," he said.
It is no exaggeration to say that Kenya is potentially facing its most serious crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1963.
Instead of setting an example to the rest of the continent, Mr Kibaki's opponents say that he has joined the unholy pantheon of African presidents who have refused to surrender power.
If he has chosen instead to squander his country's stability and its fragile ethnic harmony it is a tragedy not just for Kenya but for all of Africa.