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Kenyan leader calls for ‘tolerance’ in riot-hit city

Foreign embassies have issued travel warnings for Mombasa (© 2009 AFP)

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki called for “tolerance” in the port of Mombasa Thursday, as he visited the troubled city after days of violence sparked by the killing of a radical Muslim cleric.

“We must maintain peace, which is the foundation of democracy,” Kibaki said to crowds in Mombasa. “We must embrace tolerance and co-exist peacefully as one nation.”

Authorities insist security has been restored. Hundreds of armed officers have been deployed to quash stone-throwing rioters who took to the streets in their hundreds following the assassination of preacher Aboud Rogo Mohammed on Monday.

“We have tightened security, we have enough security forces,” said regional police chief Aggrey Adoli, speaking a day after attackers hurled a grenade at a police truck, wounding at least four officers. “We have not had problems today.”

The attack, in which the Red Cross said one person was killed, was the second such blast since riots broke out on Monday, with an earlier grenade killing three policemen on Tuesday.

Kibaki flew to Mombasa to open an agricultural trade fair, a longstanding engagement, but one which is also viewed as a government effort to show confidence in security in the city, Kenya’s main port and a key tourist hub.

For two days, angry youths fought running battles with police, looting churches and torching cars. But Muslim leaders said Thursday the situation had improved, with many businesses closed during the rioting now open.

“Things are much calmer after last night’s house to house searches by the police… Mombasa is slowly returning to normal,” said Khalid Hussein, head of the local organisation Muslims for Human Rights.

“All we can do is pray that police do not go out on a revenge mission since some of their own have fallen victim to the violence. This might provoke the rioters again.”

The murdered cleric — popularly known as Rogo — was on US and UN sanctions lists for allegedly supporting neighbouring Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants.

Rogo had fiercely opposed Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia last year to attack Shebab bases. The United States and United Nations had accused him of recruiting and fundraising for the extremist insurgents.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Wednesday visited Mombasa, where he called for the nation to come together to stop religious violence.

“We are not going to allow outside forces to incite Kenyans to create religious war,” Odinga said, after meeting with religious leaders from the majority-Muslim region, which also has a significant Christian population.

Foreign embassies — including those of Australia, Britain, France and the United States — have issued travel warnings for Mombasa, where several large tourist resorts are based.

Rogo was killed Monday in Mombasa when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his vehicle as he was driving with his wife and children, leaving it riddled with bullets.

Images released by his supporters showed his bloody corpse slumped behind the wheel. His wife and children reportedly survived the attack.

Human Rights Watch has called for a probe into the killing, noting it “follows the abductions and deaths earlier this year of several other people charged with recruitment and other offences related to the Shebab.”

Rogo’s supporters accused the security forces of murdering him, calling his death an “extra-judicial killing”. The police reject the claim and have appealed for help in hunting down those responsible.

Signature : Michael Richard MOMBASA, Kenya (AFP)

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