| MOMBASA, Kenya
MOMBASA, Kenya Aug 10 Kenya needs to improve
security to ensure that voters are not deterred by recent
grenade and gun attacks and threats by a coastal separatist
movement to disrupt the election due next March, the head of the
electoral commission said on Friday.
Kenya has been hit by several explosions since it sent
troops into Somalia to crush al Shabaab militants in October.
A separatist group has threatened to boycott and disrupt
voting if the government does not give in to their demand for
secession for Kenya's Indian Ocean coastal strip, centred on the
tourist centre and port city of Mombasa.
President Mwai Kibaki has rejected their demand.
"Voting centres are naturally crowded and could be an easy
target if our security is not alert. That already is a scare
factor to anyone wishing to leave their house to vote," said
Ahmed Isaack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and
Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which will oversee the vote.
It will be the first election in Kenya, east Africa's
economic powerhouse, since a disputed poll in 2007 that
triggered a politically driven ethnic slaughter in which more
than 1,220 people were killed.
Violence in Kenya could hit investment, trade and transport
in its landlocked neighbours, especially Rwanda and Uganda,
which rely on Mombasa port for imports of food, consumer goods
Kenya has blamed al Shabaab sympathisers for the explosions,
including one last Friday near an air force base in the capital,
a day before a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Hassan said the separatist group, the Mombasa Republican
Council (MRC), had threatened his staff.
"MRC is a threat. They have threatened our officials. We
have to increase security or there will be a low turnout, both
in registration and during the election in Coast," Hassan told a
meeting near Mombasa.
"They are discouraging coastals from voting ... sometimes
even threatening. This is worrying us because everyone will be
at risk, voters, officials and innocent citizens."
Kenyan authorities outlawed the MRC in 2010, but the High
Court lifted the ban in June, a ruling the government said it
MRC spokesman Rashid Mraja said the police had been
harassing party youths even after the court lifted the ban, and
said the group's leaders would not be able to control its
supporters should they retaliate.
"Our youth ... are slowly getting impatient. They have been
tolerant all this while, and I am afraid we may soon be unable
to contain them. When that happens let nobody blame us."
The MRC campaign for secession taps into deep local
resentment at the fact that outsiders who have moved to the
coast from elsewhere in Kenya now own much of the land and are
the main employers.
If the coastal region were to secede, Kenya would become
(Writing by James Macharia, editing by Tim Pearce)