Kenyan opposition MP shot dead

Gunmen killed a Kenyan opposition politician at his home in the early hours of today and rival ethnic gangs fought in a Nairobi slum as a month-long political crisis threatened to spiral out of control.

Newly elected Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) member of parliament Melitus Were was shot twice in the head as he reached the gate of his house shortly after midnight.

"Initial investigations indicate this was a case of murder," police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.

ODM spokesman Tony Gachoka said, without giving evidence, that Were may have been targeted by political foes. "We want no stone unturned in the investigation, but we suspect foul play."

Government officials did not immediately comment.

Hours after Were's death, rival ethnic gangs began fighting in Nairobi's Kibera slum, not far from where he was shot. A Reuters witness saw two corpses, with cuts on the head and neck, and another man badly hurt after being forcibly circumcised.

Unrest also simmered across the volatile Rift Valley, with mobs ransacking homes and burning belongings of people trying to flee Naivasha town, north of the capital.

More than 800 people have been killed since the December vote, which the opposition says was rigged.

The violence has taken on a momentum of its own, with cycles of killing between tribes who have never reconciled divisions over land, wealth and power left by British colonial rule and exacerbated by politicians in 44 years of independence.

The former UN head Kofi Annan is spearheading attempts to mediate between Kibaki's government and the opposition led by Raila Odinga. An Annan spokesman said negotiating teams were due to begin "formal dialogue" at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT) today.

Legislator Were was shot soon after midnight as he drove up to his gate in the middle-class Woodley district of Nairobi.

His attackers fled without taking anything, police said.

A crowd gathered during the morning outside the house in a middle-class suburb on the edge of Kibera slum.

Police fired teargas into the compound to disperse mourners and supporters who had been taunting officers, a Reuters witness said. Officers briefly entered the compound before retreating down the street.

Some vowed to march in protest at the death.

"It had nothing to do with robbery, it had to do with politics," supporter Colin Omondi, 26, said, holding a picture of the late MP.

In Naivasha, about an hour's drive north of Nairobi, crowds ransacked homes and burned belongings of people fleeing the lakeside town, a Reuters witness said.

Plumes of smoke rose from different parts, as members of Kibaki's Kikuyu group hunted down Luos, Luhyas and Kalenjins thought to be opposition supporters.

Nearly 100 people have died in the latest flare-up over recent days in the Rift Valley. Fighting has been largely centred on the towns of Naivasha and Nakuru, better known for their lakes and wildlife, but now deserted by tourists.

"What is alarming about the last few days is that there are evidently hidden hands organising it now. Militias are appearing ... the targeting is very specific," Britain's Africa Minister Mark Malloch Brown said on a visit to Kenya.

Both sides have traded accusations of genocide in a standoff that has shocked world leaders, who had long viewed Kenya as a peacemaker, rather than a problem, on a volatile continent.

About 250,000 people have been displaced by the violence.

Official results showed Kibaki narrowly won the Dec. 27 vote, but Odinga says victory was stolen from him by vote-rigging. International observers said the poll was flawed and diplomats are pushing for a power-sharing arrangement.