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Leaders urge peace as Kenya barrels towards uncertain election

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Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) is watched by his deputy William Ruto (R) as he delivers a speech in Nairobi on October 20, 2017, during commemorations for Mashujaa (Heroes) Day. Uhuru has called for peaceful elections next week as Kenya gears for a repeat of the presidential poll, the previous August ballot having been nullified by the Supreme court citing massive illegalities in conduct of the tally. / AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his rival Raila Odinga made calls Friday for election peace, while making veiled digs at each other on a day when the country celebrates its independence heroes.

In the capital Nairobi, Kenyatta oversaw a celebration full of pomp and ceremony for the annual Heroes Day, using the opportunity to push his campaign for re-election and warn his rival against disrupting next Thursday’s vote.

The president, whose August victory was overturned by the Supreme Court, accused the opposition of abusing hard-fought democratic freedoms “to create anarchy”.

Upon his arrival at the ceremony Kenyatta was obliged to shake hands with Chief Justice David Maraga, whom he had slammed as a “crook” after his decision to overturn the election result.

Maraga was hailed by many as a hero after the shock decision to cancel the election, which has plunged the country into its worst political crisis since post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 left 1,100 people dead.

Kenyatta said he would “not allow a repeat of the painful past where lives and properties were lost. We must therefore stand up and say no to any misleading leader out to plunge Kenya into chaos.”

He urged citizens to respect the right to vote or to abstain, and said “security organs have been enhanced and appropriately deployed to maintain law and order”.

Odinga pulled out of the election last week, denouncing the election commission for failing to make sufficient reforms to avoid the “irregularities” that led the first vote to be cancelled.

He has said he is convinced that the August 8 vote was rigged, and that plans are afoot to steal the new election as well.

At a rally attended by thousands in his western rural home of Bondo, Odinga vowed once again Friday that there would be “no election”, though he urged his supporters not to turn to violence.

“I want to plead with you, the differences we have with Mr Kenyatta should not be made personal. Those are our differences. You should not attack each other because of that,” Odinga said.

He said he would announce “the way forward” on the eve of the election, having previously called for mass protests on the day of the vote.

Although Odinga officially remains on the ballot, his call for supporters to stay away has further tarnished the credibility of an election after top election officials raised the alarm.

On Wednesday the head of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Wafula Chebukati said he could not guarantee a free, fair and credible poll, citing interference from political leaders and internal divisions.

That came just hours after one of his seven commissioners, Roselyn Akombe, quit and fled the country, denouncing the vote as a “mockery to electoral integrity”.

The near-daily twists and turns have gripped the nation with anxiety over how the election will turn out.

At least 40 people have been killed in post-election violence, mostly at the hands of police, according to rights groups.



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