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Kenyan Parliament Gets Off to Rocky Start


Kenya's new Parliament convened for the first time since the country's disputed December 27 election, but lawmakers on opposing sides carried their fight over the balloting into the chambers. Nick Wadhams has the story from VOA's Nairobi bureau.

Kenyan opposition lawmakers bickered with followers of re-elected President Mwai Kibaki over how to pick a new parliamentary speaker.

Wearing orange kerchiefs in their breast pockets, lawmakers with Raila Odinga's opposition Orange Democratic Movement insisted the election for speaker be held by open ballot; Mr. Kibaki's supporters demanded the vote be secret.

Tempers flared for over an hour as prominent politicians from both sides traded accusations from their respective sides of the aisles, before the two parties agreed to go ahead with a secret ballot.

"The standing orders are very clear that members will be given a ballot. Can you show us where it says secret ballot? We went into election with secret ballot, you stole the vote, we cannot trust you anymore," said William Ruto, a senior Odinga adviser.

After a first round of voting, the Odinga candidate had a narrow lead, necessitating another ballot. If no-one gets two-thirds majority after two rounds the speaker will be elected by a simple majority in the third round.

It was bickering like that seen in Parliament that has led many Kenyans to say they have felt abandoned by their leaders in the weeks of chaos that followed the December 27 vote.

At least 500 people have been killed and more than 250,000 displaced in clashes between protesters and police, as well as ethnic-related violence that has seen rioters torch homes and businesses across the nation.

Some say they are furious over the presidential vote, which international observers have said was flawed. Others appear to be taking advantage of lawlessness that followed the vote.

While the parliamentary debate went on, violence continued across the country. In Nairobi's giant Mathare slum, gangs torched a school and an orphanage. And to the northwest, in an area hit hard by violence, groups of young men allegedly from the Kalenjin tribe killed at least two people and set their homes ablaze.

"Gangs of Kalenjin warriors invaded the village and they burned down a couple of houses. When people went in to salvage some things, they met them and they killed two of them," said Karanja Njoroge, a retired professor in the village where the attacks occurred. "Several others were wounded with arrows in their bodies. And they removed the ones who were wounded and they ran away on the main highway toward the police station."

Kenya is bracing itself for Wednesday, when Mr. Odinga plans the first of three consecutive days of protest in cities around the country. The government has said it will not allow the demonstrations to go ahead.

Former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan is to go to Nairobi to try to find a solution to the standoff. Mr. Kibaki's government has said it sees no reason to negotiate, because it believes the vote was fair.

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