Kenyans vote in closest-ever polls amid fraud allegations    2007-12-27 05:34:00    

Kenyans headed to the polls Thursday in the country's closest-ever elections that have provoked fears of fraud and violence in a country known for relative stability.
Nairobi (dpa) - Kenyans headed to the polls Thursday in the country's closest-ever elections that have provoked fears of fraud and violence in a country known for relative stability.

Long, winding queues wrapped around streets of the capital Nairobi, as some Kenyans sat drinking tea waiting for polls to open, many of which were delayed.

Residents set up makeshift checkpoints in Kibera, East Africa's largest slum, stopping cars and verifying none were ferrying in false ballots to polling centres.

Some 14 million people are registered to vote for presidential, parliamentary and civic candidates in a race that has pit President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity against his former ally Raila Odinga and the Orange Democratic Movement.

"We want change. We want jobs. We want an end to poverty and to corruption. Raila can do this for us," said Joanes Okumu, who had been waiting in line to vote since dawn.

Odinga was greeted by a mob of supporters as he arrived to vote in his constituency, which includes the impoverished, filthy slum Kibera.

Wearing a white cowboy hat, he entered the polling station flanked by people whistling and cheering "President!" His voting was delayed however, local media reported, because voters lists with names beginning with O, R, A and W were missing - as was his name.

Odinga voted later on Thursday.

Kibaki, seeking a second 5-year term, cast his ballot in his constituency of Othaya in the lush Kenyan highlands, from where his Kikuyu tribe hails.

"I'm voting for Kibaki, of course. He has sown a change that could never be sown by anyone else," said Faith Nginyi, waiting in line at a polling station in an east Nairobi neighbourhood.

East Africa's largest economy has grown some 5 per cent a year during Kibaki's 5-year rule, mostly because of booming tourism and horticulture industries, but the country is beset by poverty and corruption, with many Kenyans rooting for change under Odinga.

The two candidates' ideologies are similar, each seeking to liberalize the economy and implement free secondary education. Odinga, 62, has led in most opinion polls.

More than 15,000 foreign and local election observers are in the country to monitor the vote that has been dubbed "high priority" by the European Union monitoring mission.

The late opening of polls around the country elicited a call by the EU's chief election observer, Count Alexander Lambsdorff, to call for an extension of voting hours in those stations affected.

"There have been delays around the country and some irregularities but they have been minor," the member of the European parliament from Germany told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "We've called for an extension of voting time by two hours."

Human rights groups and the opposition have fuelled fears that fraud and violence could mar the polls in the country seen as a beacon of peace in a troubled region. The 28,000 polling stations opened at 6 am (0300 GMT) and were set to close at 5 pm (1400 GMT).

"I have been here since 3 am. There are some problems with the voter lists. But I won't go home, I won't leave until I vote," said Mary Tom, voting in Kibera, an Odinga stronghold.

A presidential candidate must win more votes than his opponents as well as gain a quarter of votes in five out of the country's eight provinces to be declared winner.

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Kenyans vote in closest-ever polls amid fraud allegations