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Kenya police fire teargas at funeral

NAIROBI - Police fired teargas to disperse stone-throwing youths outside an opposition funeral on Wednesday while former U.N. boss Kofi Annan tried to negotiate an end to Kenya's bloody political crisis.

Several teargas canisters landed in the large football field in Nairobi where coffins were laid out and opposition leader Raila Odinga was winding up an oration for 28 slum-dwellers he said were shot by police.

A priest asks riot police to not shoot teargas in Nairobi, January 23, 2008. Police fired teargas to disperse stone-throwing youths outside an opposition funeral on Wednesday while former U.N. boss Kofi Annan tried to negotiate an end to Kenya's bloody political crisis. (REUTERS/Peter Andrews)

Pro-opposition youths then set fire to a nearby post office.

"This is a war between the people of Kenya and a small clique of very bloodthirsty people who want to cling on to power at all costs," Odinga told the crowd of mourners as violence was erupting on a road outside.

"Let us stand as one people to liberate our country."

The latest trouble came as Annan began talks to resolve a post-election stalemate that threatens to wreck the east African nation's image as a stable democracy.

Annan held talks with Odinga after meeting the speaker of parliament and Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni -- also in the country to try and mediate -- before planned talks later with President Mwai Kibaki.

Kibaki held two rounds of talks with Museveni.

Adding to a death-toll of about 650 since the Dec. 27 election, at least two more people were killed in a Nairobi slum during the morning in the latest ethnic clashes.

Odinga says Kibaki stole the narrow victory, which has split the country of 36 million down the middle.

Police had eased a ban on public demonstrations, in place since Kibaki's Dec. 30 swearing-in prompted rioting and looting, to permit a memorial led by the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for what it called the "freedom fighters" of Kibera slum.


The day began peacefully as hundreds of supporters marched from Kibera, a stronghold of Odinga's Luo tribe.

But the event turned violent when about a dozen youths on a major highway outside stopped some cars, smashed windows and beat occupants who did not belong to their Luo tribe.

Police moved in but held fire, witnesses said, as a growing crowd of youths threw rocks at them. They eventually responded with charges and fusillades of teargas, some of which landed in the field, terrifying mourners and scattering ODM leaders.

As police pulled back, youths set upon the post office, smashing windows, starting a fire and tearing a wall down.

ODM complained afterwards that police had committed "a terrible crime" by assaulting peaceful mourners.

Earlier, opposition sources said ODM would call off protests planned for Thursday -- but there was no official announcement.

"Annan has told us he will request no more street protests while he is here, and I can tell you we will not be objecting to that," a senior Odinga aide told Reuters.

After meeting Annan, the newly elected parliament speaker Kenneth Marende said face-to-face discussion between the two Kenyan leaders "is going to be on the table."

World powers have called on Kibaki and Odinga to hold urgent talks after more than three weeks of unrest.

Underscoring the urgency of Annan's mission, two men were found dead -- one stoned and one decapitated -- in Nairobi's Kariobangi slum. Area police commander Paul Ruto said the fighting was between Luos and Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group.

At least eight others were reported killed in the city and the Rift Valley, local media said.

Odinga has demanded Kibaki stand down or face an election repeat, which some diplomats have cautioned against as having too much potential for further bloodshed.

But Odinga hinted he may accept the creation of a prime minister post for him. "We are ready to share power with him. He remains president and we take the position of prime minister," Odinga told Germany's ARD television.

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