( AP ) - Police fired tear gas and bullets to disperse protesters in several Kenyan cities Wednesday at the start of three days of opposition demonstrations over disputed presidential elections.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose supporters believe he was robbed of the presidency through vote rigging in last month's election, called the protests in 42 locations nationwide, despite a government ban.
Similar protests earlier this month degenerated into widespread violence in the capital and other cities, with security forces beating back mobs of angry youths with water cannons, tear gas and live bullets, as homes in the capital's slums burned.
The violence left more than 600 people dead and a quarter of a million displaced, marring Kenya's image as a stable democratic oasis in a war-ravaged region and damaging its tourist-dependent economy. It has also aggravated long-simmering ethnic tensions and tribal conflicts over land ownership.
Vowing to march on Nairobi's Uhuru Park, which is ringed by riot police and shadowed by skyscrapers, Odinga told reporters: "Nothing will stop us from mounting these rallies."
The opposition was bolstered Tuesday by the election of their candidate for parliament speaker, but Odinga's supporters promised to continue protesting until President Mwai Kibaki and his government acknowledge that his re-election was flawed.
There was no sign of large crowds gathering in Nairobi by midday, though police fired tear gas and bullets to disperse hundreds of young men in the Kibera and Mathare slums. Opposition parliament member Fred Gumo said security forces shot and wounded three protesters in Kibera.
National police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said turnout was low nationwide and people were getting tired. He had no word on casualties.
"They want to go on with their daily businesses," Kiraithe said. "You can't demonstrate everyday. People want to send their children to school. They want to put bread on their table. Political issues can be solved politically."
In the coastal city of Mombasa, police hurled tear gas and used batons to beat back several groups of hundreds protesters on the outskirts of the city.
Police also used tear gas against about 1,000 people massed in the western city of Eldoret, where some had earlier erected makeshift roadblocks on the outskirts of town. On one, a dead dog was draped over a pile of rocks with a sign that said "Kibaki Death."
In the western town of Kisumu, about 1,000 rowdy young men were on the streets carrying a coffin with Kibaki's name on it. Protesters threw rocks at security forces who fired into the air. One bloodied demonstrator was wounded, though it was not clear how.
Kisumu police chief Grace Kahinde acknowledged Tuesday that she had ordered officers to shoot rioters during last month's violence, saying her overwhelmed force had no choice. The Kisumu hospital said 187 people were shot, 44 of them killed, on Dec. 29.
"It was an extreme situation and there was no other way to control" rioters, Kahinde said. "I gave the order to open fire myself when I heard that my officers were being overwhelmed. If we had not killed them, things would have got very bad."
Kahinde promised no bullets would be used again. "We're better prepared," she said.
Foreign and local election observers have said the vote count in the Dec. 27 presidential election was deeply flawed. And although the electoral chief pronounced Kibaki the victor, he later said he had been pressured to release the results and did not know who won.
On Tuesday, lawmakers chose Kenneth Marende, a 52-year-old lawyer and opposition supporter, to be the new speaker of the National Assembly in a narrow 105-101 vote over a Kibaki loyalist.
Marende's victory buoyed the opposition. While the speaker cannot directly block Kibaki's legislative agenda, he can slow it with his rulings and allow motions against the president's policies to be debated.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had been expected in the capital Tuesday night on a mediation mission, but the visit was postponed for several days after he fell ill with flu, his Geneva office said.
In an interview published Wednesday in the Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said it was not possible to say who won last month's vote because it was "not transparent." According to official results, Kibaki beat Odinga by 230,000 votes out of around 10 million ballots cast.
"But our analysis that the vote was extremely close highlights the need for political accommodation between two sides," Ranneberger said.