A dozen people have been killed in election-day violence in Kenya. The vote is expected to be a showdown between neck-and-neck presidential hopefuls: Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy, Uhuru Kenyatta.
Police accused a group of 200 secessionists - armed with guns, machetes, and bows and arrows - of setting a pre-dawn trap for police in Mombasa and killing five officers. One of the assailants was also killed, police said.
A second attack by the secessionists, in Kilifi about 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the north, ended with the deaths of one police officer, five assailants and an election official dead, according to police.
The separatist group, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), rejected police claims that it had been behind the attacks.
"We are not responsible for any attacks anywhere in this region," MRC spokesman Mohammed Rashid Mraja told the news agency Reuters by telephone, adding that the group only sought change through peaceful means.
An additional 400 police officers were sent to Mombasa, and the UN has restricted the movements of staff because of the violence.
Both Odinga and Kenyatta have vowed that there will not be a repeat of the bloodshed that followed the disputed 2007 polls in which more than 1,100 people died and some 600,000 were displaced.
The country's top two presidential candidates condemned the attacks. Prime Minister Odinga called it a "heinous act of aggression."
Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta expressed hope that the security situation would be brought under control to allow for the vote to proceed.
"This nation will have a president, and that president will represent all Kenyans," said Kenyatta, who, along with running mate William Ruto, faces charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his role in 2007's postelection violence.
Many voters queued up hours before sunrise outside polling stations to choose from the eight candidates. Some 14 million people are entitled to vote in the multiple elections for a new president, parliamentarians, governors, senators, councilors and special women's representatives.
"Never before have Kenyans turned up in such numbers," Odinga said. "I'm sure they're going to vote for change this election."
mkg/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)