Kenya opposition launches campaign against Kibaki

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NAIROBI, Oct 6 (Reuters) Dancing and singing in a Nairobi park, tens of thousands of Kenyans launched the opposition's election campaign today buoyed by opinion polls putting their leader ahead of President Mwai Kibaki.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate Raila Odinga accused Kibaki of tribalism and broken promises, and vowed a fresh start for east Africa's largest economy if he wins in December.

''Forty years after independence we are still very far from achieving the dream of the founding fathers,'' he told a whooping crowd at Uhuru (Freedom) Park.

''Corruption still thrives, tribalism is still there, and our people are poorer. Kibaki has failed the test.'' At a smaller rally in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, the 75-year-old president urged voters to give him a second five-year term because of measures like free primary education.

''Let the work continue,'' he told the crowd. ''I am now asking you for a second term. When I finish I will go home and farm, and you will be able to elect a young man of your choice.'' Four surveys have given Odinga, a charismatic former political prisoner, between 47 and 43 percent ratings, versus Kibaki's 42 to 34.

Kibaki comes from Kenya's largest tribe, the Kikuyu, and many perceive Odinga's party as an alliance against the Kikuyu from other ethnic groups, including his own Luo group.

''People say I'm tribalist. But when I endorsed Kibaki in 2002, didn't I know he was a Kikuyu?'' Odinga said. ''I have very many Kikuyu friends. Even my son is marrying a Kikuyu girl.'' From early morning, his supporters poured into Nairobi on buses and foot, decked in orange. City-centre traffic was halted by youths dancing in the street.

LOW MARKS Police kept a discreet watch in case of the sort of violence that often plagues Kenyan rallies at election time. Apart from some scuffles and jostling, the rallies passed peacefully.

Odinga vowed to help Kenyans by keeping prices down, paying police better and reforming the constitution.

Kibaki hopes his record of healthy economic growth, promise to expand free education to secondary schools and guarantee of continuity will win over voters.

''You can list all the good things you have seen. The most important thing is education. There is no reason for a child not to get an education because the parents are poor,'' Kibaki said.

The president gets low marks from many Kenyans, however, for failing to stop corruption and tribalism, and not delivering on promises like re-writing the constitution in 100 days.

Odinga, who projects himself as a champion of the poor despite being a rich businessman, was an ally of Kibaki's. He helped him win power, then served him in cabinet until they fell out over a referendum in 2005.

While very different in personality and style, Odinga and Kibaki would vary little in policy substance, analysts say.

Odinga, 62, has toned down his firebrand image this year to present himself as a business-friendly leader.

Odinga's surge in polls was attributed in part to massive media coverage for ODM in recent months.

The opposition received a boost yesterday when Health Minister Charity Ngilu said she would be backing Odinga.

''Raila Odinga is the second Mandela of Africa,'' she told Saturday's rally. ''He has fought for equality.'' REUTERS PY RK2148

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