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Helicopters open fire above Kenyan town, 22 die in fresh clashes

Kenyan military helicopters opened fire on Tuesday above feuding gangs in a western town as 22 died in fresh clashes following the murder of an opposition lawmaker.

world Updated: Jan 29, 2008 20:13 IST

Kenyan military helicopters opened fire on Tuesday above feuding gangs in a western town as 22 died in fresh clashes following the murder of an opposition lawmaker.

Nine people died in tribal fighting in western Kenya and four were killed in a Nairobi slum, police and medical sources said, as riots and ethnic clashes flared across the country.

Three Kenyan military helicopters have meanwhile opened fire above fighting ethnic groups in the western Rift Valley town of Naivasha, police and witnesses told AFP.

"The crowd is unruly and we want to disperse them, that is why we're using helicopters," a police commander told AFP in the lakeside town, a flashpoint of the most recent clashes since the disputed reelection of President Mwai Kibaki on December 27.

In Nairobi, opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims he was robbed of the presidency, accused "our adversaries" of having a hand in the fatal shooting in Nairobi of a lawmaker from his party.

"We suspect a foul hand of our adversaries in this," Odinga told a news conference. "The country is drifting into a state of anarchy."

Kibaki condemned the killing "as a heinous crime" and ordered immediate investigations, a statement from his office said.

In Cheptiret in western Kenya, police said they killed three men after they were attacked by around 50 armed with bows and arrows.

"The men attacked police forcing police to fire back, killing three of them while the rest fled," said Rift Valley police commander Joseph Ashmalla.

At least four died in clashes in Nairobi's slums, police said.

"Four people have been killed and we have reports that three others might have been hacked to death but we cannot access them," a police commander told AFP.

Police fired tear gas as hundreds took to the streets of opposition strongholds in western Kenya after the death of opposition member of parliament Melitus Mugabe Were from Nairobi's Embakasai constituency.

Before helicopters moved in, plumes of smoke rose from Naivasha's slums and machete-wielding youths burned houses and roamed the streets.

Naivasha, and Nakuru further north -- both tourist towns famed for their wildlife -- saw scores killed in gruesome revenge attacks and police crackdowns in recent days, pushing the overall death toll since the widely-contested presidential poll to more than 900.

Members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe suffered heavily in the first wave of violence from members of Odinga's Luo tribe and other ethnic groups including the Kalenjin and Luhya, but have since carried out numerous revenge attacks.

Groups of Kikuyus earlier faced off with Luos and also with around one hundred Maasais armed with axes and arrows on the lakeside of Naivasha.

Amid the chaos, a mediating team led by Kofi Annan, which has been in Kenya for a week, said it would launch formal dialogue between Kibaki and Odinga at 4:00 p.m. (1300 GMT) in Nairobi.

But Odinga on Tuesday again called for Kibaki to agree "that this election was stolen."

In neighbouring Rwanda, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the situation as "unacceptable" and said he would discuss it with African leaders meeting in Addis Ababa for an African Union summit from Thursday.

Opposition lawmaker Were "was shot outside his house" by gunmen, a police commander, who asked not to be named, told AFP after the first killing of a lawmaker or government official since the clashes began.

Police later teargassed the lawmaker's house to disperse protesters outside, after hundreds spilled onto the streets on hearing of his death.

"It appears it (the killing) is linked to post-election violence, but we are investigating," the police commander said.

Thousands continued to flee their homes in western Kenya fearing ethnic reprisals, adding to more than a quarter of a million people already displaced in the first clashes set off by the widely-contested election.

Political protests have since aroused latent ethnic, economic and land disputes, shattering the image and economy of the once-stable east African nation in some of the worst violence since independence in 1963.

Kenyan police have been heavily criticised by the public for failing to stem the upsurge in tribal violence in the fertile Rift Valley.

As mediation efforts were undermined by the violence, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that Kenyan leaders must work together to reach a political agreement before the chaos goes "from bad to worse."