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Kenyan Election Sparks Violent Unrest

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Hundreds of people have been killed in a wave of political violence in Kenya. The turmoil began Sunday after results of the disputed presidential election where announced. Today, President Mwai Kibaki says he was ready to talk with the opposition once the nation had calmed down.

For the latest developments, we've got Alisha Ryu. She's the East Africa bureau chief for Voice of America. She joins me now from Nairobi, Kenya. Alisha, welcome.

Ms. ALISHA RYU (East African Bureau Chief, Voice of America): Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: Can you give us a little bit of an update? How many people have been killed and what led up to the violence?

Ms. RYU: Well, the exact figures are not known because it's difficult to tally and all the casualties that have been coming in to different hospitals all around the country. I can say that the worst violence has occurred in the western area of Kenya, the western Rift Valley area which is a stronghold of the opposition leader Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Party.

And it's a very deep-seated anger because they believe that the election has been stolen from their candidate, Raila Odinga. Raila Odinga is a Luo tribe member who comes from the area of Kisumu. Kisumu, Western Kenya is a stronghold of the Luo tribe. And they really saw Raila Odinga as the person who could end decades of ethnic Kikuyo dominance.

And the Kikuyo's are the ones - are the largest ethnic group here in Kenya. And the violence actually began after they announced that President Mwai Kibaki, who is an ethnic Kikuyo, had won the election. I think it deeply shocked a lot of Raila Odinga supporters and they vented out their frustration in violence.

CHIDEYA: Now, European election observers and the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, have called for an inquiry into the accuracy of the results. Is this likely to happen?

Ms. RYU: Of course, the international pressure that is bearing down on Kenya right now is to make a difference because Kenya is an international community member. It's partner in the - with the United States in the war on terror and it's an economic powerhouse in the region. And they need international support and help. And so, to defy international calls for reconciliation and for finding some way to end this violence would be very dangerous for both leaders. And so that they cannot ignore that call, but what compromise they will be willing to accept is still not clear.

CHIDEYA: Knowing what you do about the structure of Kenyan government, is there any possibility of having a coalition government or some sharing of power, or is that completely off the table?

Ms. RYU: Well, that's exactly what Mr. Odinga has proposed. He says that there should be an interim power sharing government until fresh elections can be arranged, and that's his latest proposal. I don't know if Mr. Kibaki will agree to that. Many people believe that it's unlikely that he will agree to that because he has not agreed to share power in the past.

CHIDEYA: Since you're in Nairobi, what's the mood in the city at this point?

Ms. RYU: Well, the only word that can describe this city is tensed. People are fearing that if the political situation isn't resolved quickly, there could be a lot more violence. And people I've talked to today from Kibera Slums and opposition strongholds, they are very ready to push this issue until they get the results that they want, which is Raila Odinga in power. So, right now, I think the people are just waiting and seeing and fearing the worst.

CHIDEYA: Alicia Ryu, thank you so much.

Ms. RYU: Thank you.

Alicia Ryu is the East Africa bureau chief for the Voice of America and she spoke with us from Nairobi Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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