Polls have opened in Kenya for the first presidential election since bloody post-poll violence in 2007 left over 1,100 people dead. Hours before the vote, several policemen were reportedly killed in the city of Mombasa.
Monday's election is expected to be a showdown between neck-and-neck presidential hopefuls, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy Uhuru Kenyatta. Eight candidates are running for president.
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.
Many voters queued up hours before sunrise outside polling stations. Some 14 milliion people are entitled to vote in the multiple elections for a new president, parliamentarians, governors, senators, councillors and special women's representatives.
Violence around Mombasa
Despite the call for peace, a group of police officers, deployed to keep the peace during the election, were reportedly killed in the port city of Mombasa just hours before polling began.
Regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said five officers were killed during the incident.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo said the assailants were suspected to have been members of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a group seeking the secession of the coastal tourist region. The group had sought a referendum on secession instead of the national vote.
Reports also emerged of a second deadly attack on police just north of Mombasa.
Despite being well ahead of six other contenders, polls suggest neither Odinga nor Kenyatta may be able to earn enough ballots for an outright victory in the first round, which could set the stage for a tense run-off tentatively set for April 11. A narrow first round victory for either could raise prospects for legal challenges.
Further raising the stakes are the looming International Criminial Court (ICC) trials of Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, for crimes against humanity for allegedly inciting violence during the 2007 poll.
If Kenyatta wins, the country could see years without a president and vice president while they face trial at The Hague.
A plea for peace
On Friday outgoing President Mwai Kibaki made a "passionate plea for all of us to vote peacefully," and said that in the event of conflict Kenya had "mobilized all its security personnel."
More than 99,000 police have been deployed to ensure a peaceful vote, and about 23,000 observers, including 2,600 international monitors, will be on hand, officials say.
Some 14.3 million Kenyans are eligible to vote in Monday's elections for a new president, as well as parliamentarians, governors and senators.
hc/jr (Reuters, AFP)