Four dead in Kenya as tensions soar over disputed poll

The east African nation, keenly aware of post-poll violence a decade ago that left 1,100 dead, was on a knife-edge after a day of isolated protests in opposition strongholds.

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The unrest broke out after opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed massive fraud as Kenyatta surged ahead in provisional results, with 54 percent compared to his 44.7 percent. Results from over 96 percent of polling stations were in.

Two protesters were shot dead in the flashpoint slum of Mathare in Nairobi, where police also fired tear gas at crowds who burned tyres and blocked roads throughout the day.

An AFP photographer saw one of the victims, a young man with a massive gunshot wound to the head.

Nairobi police chief Japheth Koome said the two who were killed had tried to “attack our officers with pangas (machetes) and that’s when the officers opened fire on them.”

In the southeastern Tana River region, police said five men armed with knives had attacked a vote tallying station and stabbed one person.

“Our officers killed two of them and we are looking for others who escaped,” said regional police chief Larry Kieng.

“We have not established the motive yet, we don’t know if it is political or if it’s a criminal incident but we are investigating and action will be taken.”

The region is prone to attacks by Al-Qaeda linked Shabaab militants.

RELATEDHacking attack denied

Decrying a “sham” tallying process, Odinga detailed accusations of a major attack on the electronic voting system, saying hackers had gained entry using the identity of top IT official Chris Msando, who was found tortured and murdered late last month.

“This is an attack on our democracy. The 2017 general election was a fraud,” said Odinga, claiming detailed evidence of the hackers’ movements.

The 72-year-old, who is making his fourth bid for the presidency as the flagbearer for the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, accused his rivals of stealing victory from him through rigging in 2007 and in 2013.

“You can only cheat a people for so long,” he said.

Election commission (IEBC) chief Ezra Chiloba denied that the crucial electronic system — seen as key to avoiding fraud — had been compromised.

“Our election management system is secure. There was no external or internal interference to the system at any point before, during or after the voting,” he told a press conference.

Odinga’s claims led to isolated protests in his stronghold in the western city of Kisumu as well as in slums in Nairobi.

Responding to the tensions, former US secretary of state John Kerry, an observer with the Carter Centre, expressed confidence in the electronic voting system and urged Kenyans “not to jump to conclusions”.

“It is also going to be critical to the leaders of Kenya to step up and lead in the next days to give people confidence that this process is being worked carefully, thoughtfully and respectfully.”

0:00 Kenyatta ahead as votes counted Share Kenyatta ahead as votes counted

Calls for calm

Aside from the alleged hacking, the opposition’s main complaint was that results streaming in electronically had yet to be backed up by a scanned copy of the results from constituencies.

Chiloba assured that these forms were coming in and that candidates’ teams were being given access to them. The IEBC has insisted the results on its public website should not be considered final until they have been cross-checked.

Raphael Tuju, secretary-general of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party, urged the opposition to “look at the figures soberly” and accept the results.

Odinga urged his supporters to “remain calm as we look deep into this matter”.

But he added: “I don’t control the people.”

The heads of nine international observer missions released a joint statement calling on parties and their supporters to remain calm, and turn to the courts with their grievances.

“We appeal to all citizens of Kenya to remain committed to peace and the integrity of the electoral process,” read the statement.

Dynastic rivalry

The contest between Odinga and Kenyatta was seen by pollsters as too close to call ahead of the vote.

It is the second time the two men have faced off in a presidential election, a dynastic rivalry that has lasted more than half a century since their fathers Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga went from allies in the struggle for independence to bitter rivals.

Kenyatta, 55, is credited with overseeing steady economic growth of more than five percent. But food prices have soared under his watch, and several major corruption scandals broke out in his first term.

Shotputter Walsh won world title with groin tear

Walsh’s World Championships gold medal was the first ever for a man from New Zealand and the 25-year-old said he had been battling the groin injury when he threw 22.

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03 metres to clinch it on Monday.

“I’ve got a seven centimetre tear in my groin, and that pretty much means some time off from competing to rehab and repair,” Walsh told Fairfax Media on Thursday.

“I’ve got some training to do in the next wee while to test out if it’s any good or not, and we’ll go from there.”

The Rio Olympics bronze medallist suffered the injury in his final training session before he went out to top qualifying with a season best throw of 22.14m.

The Christchurch-based builder was limping noticeably after winning the title and said he would need a scan to determine the extent of the injury.

He had the scan in Britain on Wednesday and said he would now have to adjust his schedule as he sought a lucrative payday in the Diamond League.

“I’m meant to be doing five comps, but I will now not be able to do all five,” he added.

“My first competition may be touch and go for the Birmingham Diamond League on August 20 but I will definitely be able to compete in Zagreb (Aug. 29) and the Diamond League final in Brussels (Sept. 1).”

Walsh is second in the Diamond League on 14 points behind American Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, who leads on 24, with the overall winner of the series pocketing $50,000.

Walsh earned $60,000 by winning the world title and said any additional prize money would be a big factor in keeping him going throughout the year.

“There is a long time between drinks, so to speak,” he said.

“It is a costly business I’m in. I’m lucky that I get supported by the government pretty well and by Athletics NZ.

“It does make things slightly easier, but it’s also good to make a bit more money if I can as well.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

US slaps new sanctions on Venezuela

The measures were aimed at six members of the so-called Constituent Assembly — among them the brother of late president Hugo Chavez — as well as a military officer in charge of security for the body, and a board member of the national electoral authority.

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They added to previous US sanctions on Maduro himself — a rare step against a sitting head of state — imposed just before the assembly was elected on July 30 in a vote marred by violence, fraud allegations and an opposition boycott.

“President Maduro swore in this illegitimate Constituent Assembly to further entrench his dictatorship, and continues to tighten his grip on the country,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“This regime’s disregard for the will of the Venezuelan people is unacceptable, and the United States will stand with them in opposition to tyranny until Venezuela is restored to a peaceful and prosperous democracy.”

The Venezuelan government reacted by saying the US was “making a fool of itself in front of the world.”

It “doesn’t respect any criterion, any basic principle of international law,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told state television. “Venezuela can’t be sanctioned for anything, nor by anybody.”

The US announcement came as the Constituent Assembly and Venezuela’s supreme court took actions to limit the opposition’s ability to challenge Maduro.

The assembly has established a “truth commission” which Maduro has said should examine alleged crimes by opposition leaders — especially those in charge of the country’s legislature, which his Socialist Party lost control of two years ago. 

Sweeping powers

The assembly has also fired the attorney general, Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks to become an outspoken critic of the president.

The supreme court ordered the jailing of an opposition mayor who allowed anti-government protests in his Caracas district, and was mulling similar cases against others.

Ostensibly brought in to rewrite the constitution, the Constituent Assembly has sweeping powers to override all other branches of government. 

It has vowed to remain in operation for up to two years — beyond the scheduled end of Maduro’s term in 2019.

Those targeted in the US sanctions announced Wednesday included Adan Coromoto Chavez, the brother of the late president who was Maduro’s mentor before he died of cancer in 2013.

The National Electoral Council board member, Tania D’Amelio Cardiet, was designated for defending the assembly and for suspicion of being involved in fraud in its choosing.

The security official, Bladimir Humberto Lugo Armas, “has been involved in several acts of violence against National Assembly opposition members,” including against the body’s leader, Julio Borges, the US statement said.

The sanctions freeze the US assets of those targeted and ban American entities from doing business with them.

Battling isolation

Major Latin American nations and Canada have also rejected the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly and slammed Venezuela for “breaking democratic rule.” 

The UN rights office has condemned “excessive force” by Venezuelan security forces against protesters who objected to the Constituent Assembly and who are angry about an economic crisis that has made food and medicine scarce amid hyperinflation and a nosediving currency. 

Since the protests turned violent four months ago, nearly 130 people have died.

Protests against Maduro became muted in the past week, however, as the Constituent Assembly started sitting and intensified a clampdown.

The opposition coalition, while urging more demonstrations, has agreed to field candidates in overdue regional elections set for December 10. It said it did so to pressure Maduro to make sure they are held, and with an eye to winning most of Venezuela’s 23 states.

Although broadly criticized, Venezuela is not entirely isolated internationally.

It can count on the support of Russia and China — which have granted tens of billions of dollars in loans to Venezuela. 

On Tuesday, Caracas hosted a number of leftist allies, including Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well small Caribbean nations to which it gives cheap oil, in a meeting to show solidarity.

Maduro told the representatives he was open to regional dialogue — as long as Venezuela was “respected.”

The leader reaffirmed that the difficulties he was facing were driven by an “imperialist” United States that wanted Venezuela’s oil.

“Venezuela is the big prize, the jewel of the crown — that’s what they say in the corridors in Washington,” he said.

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Treasurer warns power companies over bills

The Turnbull government has vowed to take tough action if electricity retailers fail to give consumers greater control over their power bills.

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But the electricity companies say the best way to bring down prices is increasing supply, something that won’t happen until the government adopts a long-term policy.

The government is still considering whether to adopt the clean energy target recommended by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

In the meantime, it’s taken several steps it hopes will cut household power bills in the short term, including hauling electricity retailers in to demand they give consumers better information about their power plans, especially when discounts expire.

“I don’t think the energy companies are in any doubt that should we wish to move here we have form,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told ABC radio on Thursday, alluding to measures the government imposed on the banking sector.

The treasurer says electricity retailers are not unlike the big banks on whom the government has imposed tougher consumer data, more stringent governance regulation including on senior executives, and a levy.

Energy Australia head Catherine Tanna called on the government to beef up its price comparison website, Energy Made Easy.

Retailers had made sure the government knew their position on the underlying cause of price rises, she said.

“Stable, long-term policy will drive down prices in the long term and we have to resolve this as a priority,” Ms Tanna told ABC radio.

“Prices have gone up because we haven’t had a stable, long-term energy policy and the market has not had the right signals to invest in new supply.”

While a clean energy target wasn’t necessarily her preferred option, “it’s the best answer we have of getting a clear plan for the future”.

AGL chief executive Andy Vesey supports a clean energy target, saying the reality is, increasing supply is the best way to bring down prices.

Labor says in requiring more and plain-language information on power bills, the government is “grasping the blindingly obvious” while ignoring bigger issues.

“We are very firmly of the view that this parliament cannot let the opportunity slip that was presented by the Finkel report,” energy spokesman Mark Butler said.

“We are in the throes of a deep energy crisis in this country and delivering an energy policy through the parliament that has the support of both major parties is critical to solving that.”

Banking, investments deliver in H1 for AMP

AMP’s first-half profit has dropped 15 per cent to $445 million but the financial services giant’s underlying performance has improved with earnings growth in its banking and investment divisions.

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The company has also continued turnaround work in its problematic wealth protection business, striking reinsurance deals that will release $500 million in capital from its life insurance arm to reduce earnings volatility and raise the possibility of a capital return.

AMP’s underlying profit for the six months to June 30 was up four per cent on the previous first-half at $533 million, driven by strong operating earnings and beating the market expectation of $529 million.

Ordinary activities revenue also grew, up 25 per cent to $7.6 billion.

The wealth management division posted a one per cent drop in earnings to $193 million as margins were crimped by customers shifting to lower-cost superannuation funds.

Operating earnings were up 11 per cent in the AMP Capital investment business as fee income lifted and 10 per cent in AMP Bank.

Chief executive Craig Meller said AMP had continued to drive growth in its banking operations and international expansion, with AMP now managing $10 billion for 252 international clients, up from 199 clients at the end of 2015/16.

“Overall, it’s a solid performance underpinned by strong cost management that steps us toward our strategy of transitioning to a higher-growth, capital-light business with a more internationally diverse revenue profile,” he said.

In February, the wealth manager booked a full-year loss of $344 million – its worst result in 13 years – on the back of a restructure in its wealth protection arm undertaken to counter a downturn in the income protection business in 2016.

On Thursday AMP said work to stabilise wealth protection had lifted the division’s earnings by 11 per cent.

Mr Meller said new reinsurance agreements, which are set to roll out in November, will mean 65 per cent of AMP’s retail life insurance portfolio will be reinsured for claims.

“The earnings in the wealth protection business will be much less volatile following this new reinsurance program being implemented,” Mr Meller said.

“We have effectively insured ourselves against a large portion of potential claims.”

Mr Meller said the deals will axe $30 million off AMP’s 2018 profit, as well as $5 million in 2017.

He said part of the $500 million released would be reinvested “to deliver a return, to make up that shortfall”.

“If we can’t find opportunities to do that then the course of action would be to switch the share buy back on,” he said.

AMP shares were down 2.9 per cent to $5.255 at 1224 AEST.

AMP’S RESULTS AT A GLANCE:

* Net profit down 15pct to $445 million

* Underlying profit up 4pct to $533 million

* Revenue up 25pct to $7.6 billion

* Interim dividend up 4pct to 14.5 cents, partially franked.