( Bloomberg )- Kenyan police sealed Nairobi and broke up protests with water cannons and baton charges in a fourth day of clashes over last week's disputed presidential election.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga , who alleges the Dec. 27 ballot was rigged and accuses the government of ``genocide'' in the deaths of about 300 people, postponed a rally in the capital today after police dispersed protesters near Kibera , a slum area southwest of the city. Reports of violence outside the capital tapered off.
``The police response has been so brutal you can't see people protesting for too long,'' Thoko Kaime , deputy head of the Africa division of London-based Exclusive Analysis, which analyses political risk, said in an interview.
Violence has swept through Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa's fifth-biggest economy and the world's largest black-tea exporter, since President Mwai Kibaki won the election and was sworn in for a second five-year term on Dec. 30. Kenya's Attorney General Amos Wako called for an independent body to verify the results of the poll.
The European Union joined the U.S. in an appeal for a coalition government in Kenya to end the violence. The Nairobi Stock Exchange halted trade after less than two hours of business, while the shilling gained 0.2 percent against the dollar after losing more than 8 percent over the last week.
The violence, the worst since an attempted coup in 1982 in which at least 2,000 people died, exposed tensions among Kenya's more than 40 ethnic groups. Kibaki is a Kikuyu, which makes up about a fifth of the population and is the largest group, while Odinga is a member of the Luo . Until now, the country has been regarded as politically and economically stable.
``There is a real ethnic angle to this,'' Kaime said. ``There is a real grievance related to the politics. The Kikuyus have dominated politics.''
Jomo Kenyatta , the first post-independence leader of Kenya, was Kikuyu and ruled from 1963 to 1978. While his successor, Daniel Arap Moi , was from the minority Kalenjin group, he had influential Kikuyu ministers and ``remained in power playing these groups off against each other,'' Kaime said.
Images on Nation TV, the broadcaster owned by Nation Media Group, showed armed police standing in front of groups of protesters chanting opposition party slogans on the outskirts of the city. Police used water cannons to disperse protesters, according to images shown on APTN, the television branch of the Associated Press.
Armed police entered Nairobi's central business district earlier today and ordered pedestrians to leave the city. The few shops that were open shut down, while motorists moved their cars off the streets into basement parking areas. The maintained a heavy presence on the city's streets throughout the day.
Odinga's opposition Orange Democratic Movement postponed today's rally because the gathering was banned and the party was unable to provide security for its supporters, said spokesman Ahmed Hashi .
``We saw that this would cause more insecurity and we want peace,'' Hashi said in a telephone interview from Nairobi. ``The ODM is interested in peace and we don't want this situation to continue.''
Kibaki appeared on national television late today to announce he will visit areas affected by the violence and that he is prepared to hold talks with opposition parties. ``I am ready to have dialogue with concerned parties once the country is calm,'' Kibaki said, adding that those who felt aggrieved by the election results should challenge them in court.
The U.S. government is leading international calls for Kibaki and Odinga to rein in their supporters after dozens of civilians sheltering from tribal clashes were burned to death in a church two days ago.
Most of the victims of the church fire in Eldoret , western Kenya, were Kikuyu.
Kenya's political leaders must ``urge everyone to refrain from violence,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington yesterday. ``The church fire exemplifies just how horrible violence in the aftermath of the election can be.''
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate from South Africa who is leading a delegation trying to end the violence in Kenya, after holding talks with Odinga in Nairobi.
``The ODM is ready and look forward to the possibility of mediation, to seek a resolution of the crisis in this country,'' Tutu told reporters today.
British tour operators have suspended departures to Kenya up to and including Jan. 5 on the advice of the U.K. government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Federation of Tour Operators said in a statement published on its Web site. Alternative holidays or refunds are being offered to customers booked with the firms.
Kuoni Travel Ltd., which has 209 passengers from the U.K. currently in Kenya, is calling all clients with bookings between today and Jan. 5 to discuss their options, company spokeswoman Anne-Marie Hansen said in a telephone interview.
Kenya received 1.25 million tourists in the first nine months of 2007, generating 49.2 billion shillings ($724.6 million) of revenue, according to the Kenya Tourism Board.
Standard & Poor's yesterday cut Kenya's long-term local currency rating one level to B+ from BB- and said it may lower the credit rating further. S& P said it also may reduce the country's long-term foreign-currency ranking.
Kibaki , 76, came to power in December 2002 in Kenya's first change of government since the country gained independence from Britain. He campaigned for a second term in office on a track record that included economic growth accelerating to an 18-year high during his leadership and pledged to expand free primary education.
Odinga's election campaign targeted poor, urban voters who feel the government hasn't done enough to improve living conditions, while also promising to fight corruption. The 62- year-old led the vote count for three days before the result was announced.