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Kenyans Head to the Polls

Voters in Kenya are heading to the polls, bringing an end to President Daniel arap Moi's 24-year rule. But, charges of bribery and vote-rigging are putting a cloud over elections that Kenyans are viewing as crucial to their future.

Kenyan presidential candidates stepped up their street campaigning on Thursday, trying to drum up last-minute support.

Much is at stake in Friday's election. Many Kenyans view the end of Mr. Moi's rule as one of the most important turning points in their country's history.

For them, it is the long-awaited chance to end decades of rampant corruption, mismanagement, and widespread poverty. The average Kenyan earns just $350 a year - the same as when the country gained its independence from Britain in 1963.

Five candidates are in the race for the presidency. But for weeks, the focus of the nation has been on the two front-runners: Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the ruling party known as KANU, and Mwai Kibaki, the leader of the National Rainbow Coalition, an alliance of opposition parties recently cobbled together to form a united front against KANU.

Mr. Kenyatta, 41, is the son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and Mr. Moi's handpicked successor. Mr. Kibaki, 71, is a political veteran who was once Mr. Moi's vice president.

Both candidates have pledged to eliminate corruption from Kenyan politics, starting with their own campaigns. But familiar accusations of bribery and vote-rigging are threatening to mar the elections.

On Thursday, a senior National Rainbow Coalition leader, Raila Odinga, accused KANU of once again attempting to stack the votes in its favor.

"Evidence abounds all over the country that there are serious plans to rig the elections," he said. "As we are talking now, ballot papers have been found pre-marked in favor of the KANU candidate."

The ruling party has denied such charges, and says it is committed to holding free and fair elections.

But the previous two elections in Kenya, in 1992 and 1997, were declared flawed because of widespread bribery and cheating.

Some 40,000 local and international monitors are in place at more than 18,000 polling stations throughout the country to help ensure fair voting.

Election-related violence also remains a problem in various parts of Kenya. Since campaigning began in earnest a month ago, a dozen people have been killed, including two prominent politicians.

But this year's violence has been far below the levels that preceded the 1992 and 1997 elections. Back then, ethnic and political clashes caused hundreds of deaths and displaced thousands of mostly opposition voters.

Both of the leading candidates have made sweeping promises of change and economic growth, fueling the hopes of millions of Kenyans. But experts say, whoever wins will have a difficult time leading Kenya out of decades of poverty and corruption with anything like the speed many people are expecting.