In Kenyan Election, Kenyatta Takes Lead

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The Kenyan presidential candidate who faces charges at the International Criminal Court took an early lead Tuesday as votes were counted the day after the country’s presidential election.

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With about a third of the ballots counted, early results showed Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured left) ahead with 54 percent of the vote to Prime Minister Raila Odinga (pictured) with 41 percent.

Isaak Hassan, the chairman of Kenya’s electoral commission, said Tuesday that results from 10,000 polling stations are in, but officials await results from 23,000 more stations.

“Nobody should celebrate, nobody should complain,” he said. “We therefore continue to appeal for patience from the public, the political parties as well as the candidates.”

Either Kenyatta or Odinga need more than 50 percent of the vote to win, otherwise the two will contend in an April run-off. The vote commission has seven days to release certified results.

Hassan said the number of so-called spoiled ballots – votes that won’t be counted for not complying with all the rules – was “quite worrying.” An American election observer working for the group Sisi ni Amani Kenya – We Are Peace Kenya – said the more than a quarter million ballots thrown out indicate voter education efforts weren’t as successful as they should have been.

Long lines formed around the country Monday. Election officials estimate that turnout was about 70 percent of 14 million registered voters. Attacks by separatists on the coast killed 19 people, and other attacks were seen near the border with Somalia, but the vast majority of the country voted in peace.

In the coastal city of Mombasa on Tuesday, three suspected members of the secessionist group Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) were charged in court for the murder of four police officers during elections.

On Monday, a group of 200 separatists set a trap for police in Mombasa in the pre-dawn hours, Inspector General David Kimaiyo said. Four police were hacked to death with machetes, coast police boss Aggrey Adoli said.

The separatist group – the Mombasa Republican Council – had threatened election day attacks, Kimaiyo said. The MRC believes Kenya’s coast should be an independent country. Their cause, which is not defined by religion, is fueled by the belief that political leaders in Nairobi have taken the coast’s land for themselves, impoverishing indigenous residents.

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, was quiet Tuesday and no more violence had been reported in the country.

Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court on allegations he helped orchestrate postelection violence in 2007-08, when more than 1,000 people were killed.

The United States has warned of “consequences” if Kenyatta is to win, as have several European countries. Because Kenyatta is an ICC indictee, the United States and Europe have said they might have to limit contact with him, even if he is president.

After Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was hastily named the winner of Kenya’s 2007 vote, supporters of Odinga took to the streets in protest, a response that began two months of tribe-on-tribe attacks. In addition to the more than 1,000 deaths, more than 600,000 people were forced from their homes.

Officials have been working to ensure that level of violence does not return this election cycle. Both Kenyatta and Odinga have pledged to accept the results of a freely contested vote.

Kenyan residents appeared to approve of the electoral process so far. The election commission is giving televised press conferences and TV stations are showing the commission’s frequently updated vote tallies.

“The elections are going on well. It is better managed than the 2007 elections,” said Judith Egesa, 24, who works at a food shop in Mombasa. “We want to welcome a new era. Whoever wins the presidency, we will accept him as long he leads Kenya without tribalism and discrimination. I voted for Raila, but if Uhuru wins I have no problem provided he leads us in peace and fulfills his promises.”

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