Three dead in rioting by opponents of Kenya's draft constitution

Rioting by opponents of Kenya's draft constitution left three people dead in the country's main lakeside town, police said Sunday.

Saturday's unrest was sparked by opposition to a rally meant to drum up support for the constitution before a Nov. 21 referendum on the proposed charter.

The deaths in Kisumu, a lakeside town 260 kilometers (160 miles) west of the capital, Nairobi, were the first fatalities in a bitter campaign that has seen frequent violence between supporters and critics of the document.

A man and a teenage boy were killed when police opened fire at a crowd of 100 people who had stormed a police station in Kisumu to free three people arrested earlier for alleged incitement to violence, said Bakari Omar Jambeni, the Nyanza Province police chief.

Another man was killed but the cause of death was unknown because he had no visible injuries, Jambeni said.

Forty-four people, including five policemen, were injured in the rioting, which preceded the arrival of a team of Cabinet ministers campaigning in support of the proposed new constitution.

Police arrested 47 people who will be charged on Monday with various offenses, Jambeni said.

The referendum, Kenya's first since independence from Britain in 1963, has seen President Mwai Kibaki's Cabinet split, with members crisscrossing the country campaigning for opposing sides and sometimes being attacked with stones.

Dozens have been arrested as a result of the violence, including two lawmakers.

Kibaki has pushed for a "yes" vote on the draft constitution, saying it cuts presidential powers and removes some power from the capital, Nairobi.

Kenya's current constitution was drawn up in the lead-up to its 1963 independence from Britain and has been revised several times to create a strong unitary state with sweeping presidential powers.

Opponents of the proposed new constitution say it would dilute reforms planned last year during a constitutional conference, including many checks on existing presidential powers and a powerful prime ministerial post.

Human rights organizations, civic groups, religious leaders and politicians have urged the government to delay the referendum and review the constitution in an effort to resolve the deepening political rift, AP reported. V.A.

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