Foreign observers praise Kenyan election
By Tim Cocks

NAIROBI, Dec 28 — International observers praised Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections as broadly transparent and peaceful on Friday, despite fears that such a close race would encourage rigging and large-scale violence.

Monitors from the European Union, a group of countries from Africa’s Great Lakes region and the U.S.-based International Republican Institute all praised the conduct of Thursday’s vote.

Opposition challenger Raila Odinga had repeatedly accused President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) of planning to rig the votes, and warned that east Africa’s biggest economic power could descend into bloodshed if his supporters were cheated.

“Our delegates congratulate the people of Kenya for a relatively transparent, peaceful process,” Lydia Wanyoto-Mutende, of the East African Legislative Assembly, which groups lawmakers from the region, told journalists on Friday.

There were sporadic clashes in the run-up to the elections — riots were suppressed with tear gas and three police were beaten to death. But despite gloomy predictions, the observers said election-related violence had been limited.

“There were minor irregularities, but we did not witness any election violence at all,” said Nyabirungu Mwene Songa of the Amani forum, grouping seven countries from the Great Lakes region.

The comments echoed remarks by the European Union, whose chief observer said on Thursday that the election had “fulfilled our hopes in that it has been conducted in a peaceful atmosphere with no intimidation”.

A right-wing American think-tank, the International Republican Institute, added to the praise, but said Kenya’s electoral commission must address the problem of polling stations opening late and voting materials being delivered late.

U.S. ambassador Michael Ranneberger called the poll “a largely peaceful and positive process”.

Minor complaints by observers included some voters being double-counted on the register. All stressed that the vote could not be declared free and fair until all votes had been counted.

By late afternoon on Friday, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) had released results from only 28 of 210 constituencies, with Kibaki leading by 693,195 votes to 517,800.

Meanwhile three local television stations unofficially collated constituency counts of up to 5 million votes, perhaps around half the total votes cast in the presidential election, to give Odinga a commanding lead.

Additional reporting by Joseph Sudah. Editing by Kevin Liffey.

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