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21 Dead in Kenya Gang Violence - 2003-01-07

At least 21 people are dead after several days of gang violence in Kenya.

The violence erupted late Saturday in Nakuru, 140 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, after members of a banned, quasi religious group called the Mungiki, attacked minibus drivers at a local bus stop.

The Mungiki are blamed for at least 12 deaths in Nakuru. In clashes with the group on Sunday, police say they killed four members while three others were lynched by a mob. Dozens have been arrested.

But the police were not able to prevent several Mungiki from breaking into homes on Sunday in Nakuru and attacking people with axes and pangas, or machetes. At least 16 people were reported wounded in these attacks.

Police say the Mungiki struck again on Monday, killing two people in the town of Muranga, 60 kilometers north of the capital. It is not clear whether the incidents in the two towns are related.

In the past year, minibus drivers across Kenya have clashed repeatedly with Mungiki sect members, who have tried to take control of bus stops and force the drivers to pay user fees.

The minibuses, known as matatus, are the main form of public transportation in Kenya. Many Kenyans accuse the Mungiki of being nothing more than thugs and extortionists.

The latest violence is the worst in Kenya since last March, when members of the Mungiki hacked to death more than 20 people during a rampage in a Nairobi slum.

That incident prompted the government of then President Daniel Arap Moi to ban the group, which is believed to have thousands of followers. All of the adherents are drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe. Members encourage traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.

The newly elected government of President Mwai Kibaki is under pressure to disband the group. The Mungiki is perceived by some Kenyans as a violent arm of the KANU party, which suffered a crushing defeat at the polls last month after 39 years in power.

During election campaigning, Mr. Kibaki's party, the opposition National Rainbow Coalition, vowed to get rid of what it calls the Mungiki menace.