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.
Four-year talks result in deal to end decades of deadly conflict
Kenya struck oil for first time in northeastern Turkana county in 2012
Just weeks after a failed coup, Turkey's entry wins support from leading European countries
Move reflects diversity of Canada, encourages Muslims to join RCMP
Number of casualties feared to rise with Turkey offering assistance for recovery efforts
Ecuador FM says funds could be used in various areas
Islam permits the victims of crimes to seek justice or to forgive. A coffee shop owner in Brooklyn, New York, Abdul decided to forgive
Suspect linked to arms cache found in Northern Ireland, local media reports
President of Kurdish region says agreement will not damage students
Reports of Pravin Gordhan's potential arrest lead to market turmoil
Ten Iraqi soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Qayyara
Iraqi forces are preparing to capture Mosul from ISIL group
A research paper has exposed the activities of Russian-funded organizations in Europe whose goal is to “shift European public opinion towards a positive view of Russian politics and policies, and towards respect for its great power ambitions.”
Javad Zarif expresses Iranian business sector interest in construction of inter-ocean canal
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says Hungary is continuing investigation into Gulenist-linked schools and individuals
NATO has been stationing troops in eastern Europe for months, in response to Russia's actions however communication is open to prevent a potential conflict