Kenya death toll hits 693: report

By Bogonko Bosire

Nairobi - The death toll from Kenyan post-election violence soared to 693, officials said on Sunday, amid pressure on rival leaders to acknowledge election irregularities that spurred the violence and drop all preconditions for talks.

"We have recovered 89 more bodies from the bushes in the last five days in the Rift Valley and Western provinces," a top police commander told AFP.

An official from the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), which last week warned that several bodies may have been devoured by animals in the bush, confirmed the figure of recovered bodies.

In fresh acts of violence two people were killed in the Rift Valley's districts of Rongai and two others in Molo, a police commander added.

The latest deaths bring to 693 the number of victims of post-election violence as compiled by AFP from medical sources, police officials and mortuary attendants across the country.

The newly recovered bodies prompted the KRCS to increase its official toll from 486 to 575 people dead as a result of the violence following the contested December 27 election, according to its statements.

Nearly 260 000 people have been displaced - mainly in the Rift Valley region - after violence flared on December 30 when President Mwai Kibaki was declared re-elected and immediately sworn into a second term of office despite protests of irregularities in the vote count by the opposition and international observers.

The nationwide rioting rapidly degenerated into bloody tribal vendettas, raising fears that more violence could lead to events spilling out of control.

On Saturday, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer urged Kibaki and opposition chief Raila Odinga to acknowledge poll irregularities and quickly move towards talks.

Frazer, who was in the country for nearly a week to mediate, said in a statement that it was "imperative" for Kibaki and Odinga to sit down together "directly and without preconditions."

"Both should acknowledge serious irregularities in the vote tallying which made it impossible to determine with certainty the final result," said Frazer, who left the country Friday.

Odinga says he was robbed of victory in the chaotic election by a rigged vote count, and he has refused to recognise Kibaki's re-election or sit down with him until he admits to fraud.

Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has announced fresh protest rallies this week after African Union-mediated talks ended Thursday with no sign of any breakthrough.

Police have banned the three days of rallies slated to start on Wednesday, raising fears of more confrontations across major cities in the east African nation.

The government and church leaders have urged the opposition to call off the demonstration.

Kenya was once considered a beacon of democracy and stability in region and the latest crisis has rattled the country's image and its economy, raising fears that the country may plunge into conflict that has blighted its neighbours. - Sapa-AFP

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