World Bulletin / News Desk
At least 15 people were killed in attacks by machete-wielding gangs on Monday as Kenyans queued to vote in a presidential election they hope will rebuild the country's image after a disputed 2007 poll unleashed weeks of tribal bloodshed.
A few hours before the 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) start of voting and with long queues across the nation, at least nine security officers in Kenya's restive coastal region were hacked to death, and six attackers were also killed, a regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said. The total toll had earlier been put at 17.
There were two separate attacks and senior police officers blamed one of them on a separatist movement - which, if confirmed, would suggest different motives to those that caused the post-2007 vote ethnic killings and could limit their impact.
Officials and candidates have made impassioned appeals to avoid a repeat of the tribal rampages that erupted five years ago when disputes over the poll result fuelled clashes between tribal loyalists of rival candidates. More than 1,200 people were killed.
As in 2007, the race has come down to a high-stakes head-to-head between two candidates, this time between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Both will depend heavily on votes from tribal loyalists.
One of the machete attacks on Monday took place outside Mombasa and another in Kilifi about 50 km (80 miles) to the north. Senior police officers blamed the one near Mombasa on a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, which had sought and failed to have the national vote scrapped and a referendum on secession instead.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and it was not possible to independently identify the attackers.
Even before the violence, many Kenyans were wary, particularly in places where it erupted last time. Shopkeepers have run down stocks and some people in mixed tribal areas have returned to their homelands elsewhere.
Bernard Otundo, 36, queuing quietly in Nairobi in the early morning darkness, said he expected a peaceful vote.
"Some of us have been here as early as 2 a.m. this morning. I got here slightly after 3 a.m.," he said. "There have been a lot of awareness campaigns against violence and I don't think it will happen this time around, whatever the outcome."
In the early hours before voting, some Kenyans blew whistles and trumpet-like "vuvuzelas" to wake up voters. But others remain fearful that broader violence could flare.
"Our future is uncertain but we long for peace and victory is on our side this time round," said Odinga supporter 32-year-old Eunice Auma in Kisumu, a flashpoint after the 2007 vote.
"However, should our candidate (Odinga) fail to clinch victory. I'm afraid violence will erupt," she said.
Outgoing President Mwai Kibaki, barred from seeking a third five-year term, made what he described as a "passionate plea" for a peaceful vote. The candidates have pledged to accept the result. But the close race has raised the sense of uncertainty.
Though well ahead of six other contenders, polls suggest Odinga and Kenyatta will struggle to secure enough ballots for an outright victory in the first round. That could set the stage for a tense run-off tentatively set for April 11, while a narrow first-round win could raise prospects for challenges.
To try to prevent a repeat of the contested outcome that sparked the violence after the December 2007 vote, a new, broadly respected election commission is using more technology to prevent fraud, speed up counting and increase transparency.
This could lead to a swifter announcement of results, after delays in 2007 fuelled the crisis. Provisional figures may emerge within hours of polls closing, although the commission has seven days to declare the official outcome.
Some voters still grumbled about the slow process as lines snaked hundreds of meters (yards) from the polling station. "People are beginning to fall and faint on the queue," said Peter Gichuchi, waiting for hours in the steamy heat of Mombasa.
To build confidence, Kenya has passed a new constitution since 2007, police chiefs have deployed extra forces to maintain security and there is a more independent judiciary which commands greater respect. Officials have appealed to candidates to raise any challenges in the courts and not on the streets.
Even so, Odinga, 68, has raised a warning flag, telling Reuters two days before the vote that the commission had by "design or omission" failed to register all voters in his strongholds, a charge the commission denies. On Monday, he condemned the violence.
Alongside the presidential race, there are hotly contested elections for senators, county governors, members of parliament, women representatives in county assemblies and civic leaders.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on Tuesday ordered Moscow to pay damages over the incident, which saw 30 activists and journalists detained in an armed raid by Russian security officials after a protest against oil drilling.
Michel Barnier said after talks with his counterpart David Davis that the two sides were still at odds over Britain's divorce bill and over the rights of European citizens living in Britain.
Mustafa Akinci uses anniversary of 1974 Turkish intervention to lay blame for talks failure at Greek Cypriot door
The lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in power, voted 235 to 192 -- with 23 abstentions -- in favour of the law giving the justice minister power to select candidates for the court.
Kremlin spokesman says there was no undisclosed second meeting between Russian, American heads in Hamburg
The two sides remain far apart on the exit bill that the EU says Britain must pay and on whether or not the bloc's top court will keep jurisdiction over European citizens living in Britain, sources close to the talks said.
UN peacekeeping force in DRC says reduction is part of new military strategy
Turkish diplomatic sources say UK set to lift prohibition on carrying large electronic devices on flights
Paul Manafort, Trump Jr. to testify in session addressing a US law overseeing foreign agents; Kushner to testify separately
Ibrahimjon Asparov accused of supplying weapons, ammunition to main suspect in deadly Reina nightclub attack New Year’s Eve
Patient simulator, computer with drug recognition program, vital symptom monitor among items donated
Al-Shabaab suspects thought to be planning new attacks after Kenyan president ordered police to shoot militants on sight
In closed-door meeting, Israeli premier can be heard criticizing Barack Obama and boasting of airstrikes on arms shipments
"An unidentified male called to say that he had placed a bomb on an international train travelling through Hungary," police said in a statement.