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Kenya mostly calm after vote ruling; minor clashes in west

People watch a live broadcast on the last day of the presidential poll petition in Kenya's capital Nairobi, March 28, 2013. REUTERS/Noor Kha
People watch a live broadcast on the last day of the presidential poll petition in Kenya's capital Nairobi, March 28, 2013. REUTERS/Noor Kha

By Edmund Blair and Hezron Ochiel

NAIROBI/KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police clashed on Sunday with a few dozen protesters angry at a court's confirmation of Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect, but the unrest was minor compared with the nationwide bloodshed after the last disputed election.

There was little sign of violence beyond Kisumu, a city in the west of Kenya where there is strong backing for Prime Minister Raila Odinga, loser in the presidential election.

Kisumu and other regions were devastated by deadly riots after the vote in 2007.

Even in Kisumu, where two people were killed by gunfire and shops were looted on Saturday after the Supreme Court declared Kenyatta had won in a fair race, most areas had cooled down on Sunday and the latest trouble was limited to the outskirts.

Many Kenyans had said they were determined to avoid a repeat of the violence five years ago that killed more than 1,200 people and hammered east Africa's biggest economy.

Kenyans said the calmer atmosphere this time was in part because of far greater trust in the reformed judiciary that ruled on the disputed March 4 vote, and also because Odinga was swift to fully accept the verdict despite his disappointment.

Kenyatta is expected to be sworn in on April 9.

"Our leader has conceded defeat, who are we to take to the streets?" said Elijah Onyango, 27, delivery man in Kisumu.

"Life has to continue with or without Raila. We are just poor citizens who must struggle to put food on the table."

In Nairobi, police were called in to defuse a bomb left in a minibus in a residential suburb, a Reuters witness and police officer said. It was unclear if there was any link to the vote. A blast hit another area of the city a day after the election.

The peaceful voting and an orderly legal challenge has helped restore Kenya's image as one of Africa's most stable democracies. Western states were anxious that cool heads prevail in their ally in the regional fight against militant Islam.

As in past ballots, tribal loyalties tended to trump political ideology at the ballot box. Odinga, a Luo, and Kenyatta, from the largest Kikuyu tribe, relied heavily on their ethnic supporters. But tensions between rival groups have not so far boiled over in the way they did after the 2007 vote.

THE HAGUE DETERRENT

Kenyatta's indictment in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, based on charges he helped organize violent gangs after the last election, may have swollen the turnout for him and running mate William Ruto, also charged.

"It certainly helped Kenyatta and Ruto," said one European diplomat in Nairobi, but added: "The presence of the court is major deterrent to any politician who otherwise may have been tempted to hire some youths to get into a big fight."

That was echoed by Boniface Odhiambo, a 33-year-old who sells mattresses in Kisumu. "Politicians have realized that inciting people to violence will land them in The Hague and nobody wants to go there," he said.

Kenyatta and Ruto have both denied the charges and promised to clear their names.

Western states have said the charges will complicate relations because of their policy of having only "essential contacts" with indictees.

But diplomats said there could be latitude in how to define that if Kenyatta and his deputy continue to cooperate with the court. Western nations, including the United States, congratulated him on his victory.

The White House welcomed Kenya's "commitment to uphold its international obligations, including those with respect to international justice", a reference to comments along those lines made by Kenyatta in his victory speech on March 9.

JUSTICE

The unrest in Kisumu appeared to reflect spontaneous anger among Odinga supporters, worried they might be marginalized by a Kenyatta government.

Traditionally, Kenyans expect elected rulers to put their own ethnic group first. The country came third in the 2012 Transparency International bribery index which ranks countries in the region in order of the prevalence of corruption.

"They have stolen our votes and are now killing us," shouted one protester in Sunday's clashes. "We want justice for our leader. The courts were corrupted to rule in their favor."

Police fired tear gas at dozens of stone-throwing youths in a Kisumu suburb. But other areas of the city had largely calmed down.

Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president and whose family controls a vast business empire, promised in a televised address after the ruling to work for all Kenyans, including those who challenged the validity of his election.

"I want to assure Kenyans that our government will be as inclusive as possible and will reflect the face of our great country," he told the nation.

Many Kenyans in places that were flashpoints five years ago, such as Kibera slum in Nairobi, or other Odinga strongholds such as Mombasa, said they wanted to move on.

"People were tired. Life has already gone back to normal since the election," said Brian Kiogora, 32, a restaurant owner in Mombasa. "Emotions were much lower, so violence was most unlikely, even with the outcome of the petition."

(Additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa and Thomas Mukoya and Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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