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Kenya braces for legal battle after Ruto declared president-elect

·2 min read

NAIROBI/KISUMU, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Kenya braced on Tuesday for a protracted legal battle after William Ruto was declared the victor in a closely fought presidential race over the objections of more than half the electoral commission, stoking fears of political violence.

In the western city of Kisumu and Nairobi's huge Kibera slum, both strongholds of rival candidate Raila Odinga, calm returned to the streets after protesters battled police and burned tyres on the road overnight.

The dramatic events of Monday, which saw Ruto declared president by a tiny margin as a split emerged in the electoral commission overseeing the Aug. 9 vote, has raised fears of bloody violence like that seen after previous disputed polls.

Odinga's Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) Alliance is expected to hold a news conference on Tuesday to give its verdict on the election outcome and chart the way forward.

The veteran opposition leader, making his fifth bid for the presidency, was under mounting local and international pressure to seek peaceful legal remedy for any concerns over the election outcome. The United Nations and the U.S. embassy in Kenya both urged all parties to work together.

The four commissioners who disowned the election results also urged the parties to pursue any disputes through the courts.

Kenya, East Africa's richest and most stable nation, has a history of election disputes that have resulted in bloodshed, with over 1,200 people killed in widespread violence after the 2007 presidential vote. More than 100 people were killed in 2017 after the Supreme Court overturned the result due to anomalies in the voting process.

Odinga supporters have denounced Monday's election result although Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o called for calm as protests in parts of the lakeside town turned violent after Ruto's victory was declared. He said the Azimio leadership was working to plan its response to "ensure justice" for Odinga.

Neither the chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, who declared Ruto the winner with 50.49% of the vote against Odinga's 48.5%, nor the four commissioners who disowned the results responded to a Reuters request for comment.

Once in office, Ruto will have to confront an economic and social crisis. Poor Kenyans already reeling from the impact of COVID-19 have been hit by global rises in food and fuel prices while a devastating drought in the north has left 4.1 million people dependent on food aid.

The 55-year-old had made Kenya's class divisions the centrepiece of his campaign to become Kenya's fifth president, promising to reward low-income "hustlers."

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri and George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Ayenat Mersie and Kevine Omollo in Kisumu Writing by James Macharia Chege Editing by Catherine Evans)