By Daily Mail 

First published on 1st January 2008

A screaming mob set fire to a Kenyan church and killed up to 50 villagers cowering inside, including women and children, as the death toll from ethnic riots soared towards 300 last night.

Anger triggered by President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed reelection at the weekend has seen simmering tribal tensions explode into open warfare.

Protesters in Nairobi brandish pangas, broad-bladed machetes, in anger at the poll they say was riggedThe church massacre in the west Kenyan town of Eldoret brought back traumatic memories of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in which tens of thousands were slaughtered in churches burned to the ground.

Protesters in Nairobi brandish pangas, broad-bladed machetes, in anger at the poll they say was rigged

Map Of KenyaAn Irish Catholic priest said thousands of terrified refugees, mainly ethnic Kikuyu, were now sheltering in churches in and around Eldoret as vigilante gangs roamed outside.

“There are four to five thousand in the main cathedral, and thousands in other churches,” said Father Paul Brennan.

“Houses are being burned. It is too dangerous to go outside and count the dead.”

Gordon Brown and other international leaders appealed for an end to the violence as the church attack, after four days of rioting and ethnic clashes, marked one of the darkest days in Kenya’s history since independence from Britain in 1963.

Up to 7,000 British tourists and 30,000 expats in Kenya are being advised to stay indoors. The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to some areas of the East African country.

Ablaze (see description below) (Left) Ablaze: supporters of Raila Odinga chant ‘No Raila, no peace in Kenya’ during riots in Kibera after Mwai Kibaki was declared president. They accused him of electoral fraud Flames: police face pitched street battles

(Right) Flames: police face pitched street battles as fights rage

The explosion of violence throughout one of Africa’s most stable democracies and strongest economies has shocked the world and left Kenyans aghast as old tribal rivalries pitch communities against each other.

The explosion of violence throughout one of Africa’s most stable democracies and strongest economies has shocked the world and left Kenyans aghast as old tribal rivalries pitch communities against each other.Kibaki’s Kikuyu people, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, are accused of using their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others, particularly the Luo tribe of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says Kibaki robbed him of the presidency by rigging the election.

The explosion of violence throughout one of Africa’s most stable democracies and strongest economies has shocked the world and left Kenyans aghast as old tribal rivalries pitch communities against each other.Kibaki’s Kikuyu people, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, are accused of using their dominance of politics and business to the detriment of others, particularly the Luo tribe of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says Kibaki robbed him of the presidency by rigging the election.The leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, feared Kenya was on “the verge of a complete meltdown”.

The church massacre at the Assembly of God Pentecostal church fire in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley 180 miles north-west of Nairobi, killed up to 50 people, said a Red Cross volunteer who counted the bodies and helped the wounded.

But she asked that her name – which would identify her tribe – not be published, saying gangs were even checking on the tribal affiliations of aid workers.

Up to 400 of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe had sought refuge in the church in fear of their lives.

Police and reporters said the blaze was deliberately started by a screaming mob of youths.

Bitter Rivals

Bitter rivals: President Kibaki, left, and Odinga, who declared himself ‘the people’s president’

Witnesses said charred bodies, including women and children, were strewn about the smouldering wreckage.

The Eldoret area is multi-ethnic but traditionally dominated by the Kalenjin tribe. It suffered ethnic violence in 1992 and 1997 when hundreds, mainly Kikuyus, were killed and thousands more displaced.

A senior security official in Rift Valley blamed the opposition for incitement.

“We have lived together for years, we’ve intermarried, we have children, but now they’ve asked them to turn against each other,” the security official said.

“We don’t do this in Kenya. It is what happens in Yugoslavia and Sudan.” The European-Union and the United States have refused to congratulate Kibaki on his poll victory, and the EU and four top Kenyan election officials have called for an independent inquiry.

EU election monitors said the presidential poll “fell short of international standards”.

Gordon Brown urged Kibaki and Odinga to hold talks, and called on the African Union and the Commonwealth to help reconcile the political rivals.

“But the first priority is that the violence is brought to an end,’ he said. ‘It is unacceptable that lives are being lost.”

Odinga said he would refuse to meet Kibaki unless he announced that he had not been fairly elected.

He accused the government of stoking the violence and said Kibaki’s administration “is guilty, directly, of genocide”.

Unrest(Left) Unrest: police use batons to beat protestersEscape

(Right) Escape: pro-opposition demonstrators are forced to flee charging riot police

Odinga insisted he would go on with plans to lead a million people in the capital Nairobi tomorrow in a protest march against Kibaki, who had been trailing Odinga in early election results and opinion polls before pulling ahead.

The government banned the demonstration, but Odinga said: “It doesn’t matter what they say.”

Kibaki, 76, won by a landslide in 2002, ending 24 years in power by Daniel arap Moi.

Kibaki is praised for turning the country into an East African economic powerhouse with an average growth rate of 5 per cent.

But his anti-corruption campaign has been seen as a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty.

Odinga, 62, cast himself as a champion of the poor. His main constituency is Nairobi’s Kibera slum, where some 700,000 people live in poverty, but he has been accused of failing to do enough to help them in 15 years as a member of parliament.


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