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Kenya election: Police clash with opposition supporters, 1 killed

Posted October 25, 2017 11:00 a.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2017 9:21 a.m. EDT

— Kenyan police clashed with protesters in opposition strongholds as the nation voted for a new president Thursday, leaving one dead and more injured.

The main opposition candidate had urged his supporters to boycott the latest election -- the second in less than three months -- reflecting bitter divisions in the country.

The death was confirmed by hospital officials in the western town of Kisumu, where police used tear gas and water cannons on opposition supporters and roads remained barricaded.

The victim bled to death while being treated for a gunshot wound to the thigh, according to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital. Four other people were admitted with bullet wounds and 19 more are being treated after being beaten by police, the hospital said.

Kenyan police spokesman Charles Owino declined to comment immediately on the reports of election-related violence in Kisumu.

Voting materials arrived in Kisumu, but electoral commission officials could not be found at some polling stations. Many Kisumu residents are staying away from the polls as a protest.

Voting appeared peaceful in most of the country.

But in the capital city of Nairobi, security was tight as soldiers equipped with long guns and tear gas canisters hovered near polling stations.

In the Kibera slum area, the main opposition stronghold in the city, protesters pelted police with stones as officers fired some live ammunition, blanks and tear gas into the air as a warning to disperse.

"There is no voting here, leave us alone," protesters shouted. "No Raila, no peace!"

But the scene was peaceful in Kiambu, a Kenyatta stronghold north of Nairobi. Josephine Wambui, 93, woke up at dawn to wait for her son to take her to the polling station there. She told CNN she had voted in every election since Kenya gained independence in 1963, and this would be no different.

"I am happy to vote. It is just a matter of coming to the polls and exercising my right," she said. "I have a rightful civic duty to perform."

The opposition boycott is expected to hand victory to President Uhuru Kenyatta, but in a poll that will be affected by low turnout and is likely to face legal challenges.

Bitter divisions

The election comes after weeks of political twists and turns.

Last month, the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of annulling Kenyatta's August 8 victory after opposition leader Raila Odinga said the results were electronically tampered with. The court ordered Thursday's rerun.

While the high court ruling appeared to vindicate Odinga, the opposition leader dropped out of the race this month, saying the electoral commission had not implemented reforms.

Odinga urged his supporters to boycott the election, raising the possibility that millions will shun the outcome. A day before the election, activists made a last-ditch effort to stop the vote.

The political uncertainty has left residents of the east African economic powerhouse on edge. The election has become so divisive, it has revived fears of violence like that experienced in 2007 and 2008, when at least 1,000 people were killed in Kenya.

After Kenyatta was declared the winner in the August vote, sporadic clashes erupted in some areas, killing at least 24 people.

Leaders urge restraint

In a televised address on the eve of Thursday's rerun, Kenyatta urged the public to be peaceful and pledged fair treatment for all.

"After you vote -- and I have said this before -- please go home. Go back to your neighbor. Remember that in spite of their origin, your neighbor is your brother; your neighbor is your sister," he said.

"For those who wish not to vote, your rights are also equally protected by the very same constitution."

The President's comments addressed the issue of ethnic bonds, which are often stronger than national identity in Kenya, which has at least 40 ethnic groups.

Kenyatta hails from the country's largest community, the Kikuyu. Mostly originating from Kenya's central highlands, the Kikuyu have long been accused of wielding strong economic and political power in the country. Odinga is a member of the Luo community, which some say has become increasingly marginalized in recent years.

Hours before the President spoke, Odinga appeared at an opposition rally in Nairobi, where he addressed throngs of supporters and called for a "national resistance movement" to boycott the election.

"Do not participate in any way in the sham election," he said. "Convince your friends, neighbors and everyone else not to participate."

Odinga urged Kenyans who "value democracy and justice to hold vigils and prayers away from polling stations." He also issued a call for peace within communities, saying, "Don't look at your brother or sister with suspicion. He or she is as much of a victim as you."

Efforts to stop election

The chairman of the election board reiterated Wednesday that polling would go ahead as after the Supreme Court failed to rule on a last-minute bid by activists to stop the vote.

But last week, Wafula Chebukati had warned that he had no faith the country would deliver a free and fair election. He said political leaders were the greatest threat to a credible vote, urging Odinga and Kenyatta to meet and discuss their differences.

Following his withdrawal from the presidential race, Odinga repeatedly urged his supporters to have nothing to do with the election unless his demands for electoral reform were met.

Opposition supporter Kepher Omweri, 37, who attended Odinga's rally, told CNN he would not vote because he felt his rights were being denied.

"I'm here to support my presidential candidate and tell the world that here in Kenya, we are being led by dictators. The people who are in power; they are there using their own powers and not those of the people," Omweri said.

Kenyatta supporter John Mwangi woke up at dawn to vote, but said the election had lost some excitement with the opposition candidate's boycott.

"Now I just want us to finally have peace so we can move on from this," he said.

Fears of unrest

Observers will be closely monitoring Thursday's election, including the Carter Center, which also had a team there in August. But it won't be sending as many observers this time around, given the "growing insecurity, the uncertain political environment and the lack of a fully competitive election," the organization said in a statement.

As the largest economy in East Africa, any unrest could have ripple effects far beyond the nation of 47 million people. Many view Kenya's fate as a key indicator for stability in a region that includes the fledgling Somali government and the politically tense Sudan and South Sudan.

Polls will be open until 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET Thursday). Electoral officials have a week to declare the final results.