Violent protests have erupted in Kisumu, western Kenya, following the murder of a prominent local politician.
A senior police officer, who requested anonymity, told the AFP news agency on Monday that three people “died from either burning or suffocation after teargas was lobbed into a hardware shop they were hiding in”.
Joseph Oli Tito, Nyanza provincial police officer, confirmed the deaths but denied that police were involved.
“Three people inside a workshop died in a fire. … There are rumours that police officers lobbed teargas into the workshop which caused fire, but we are disputing that and we are suspecting an electric fault,” he said.
The protests erupted after Shem Onyango Kwega, a candidate for a parliamentary seat in Kisumu in general elections due in March, was killed by unidentified armed men on Monday while driving in town.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Nairobi, says: “”There is so much worry about what we are seeing right now, as the same place was the scene of so much violence in 2008”.
Kwega, the local branch chairman of Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), was shot in the head and later died at the hospital.
Kisumu, the prime minister’s fiefdom, was a hotspot during Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence.
The unrest, which left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced throughout Kenya, was prompted by the contested election of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki against Odinga.
Kwega’s wife was seriously wounded and was treated at a Kisumu hospital on Monday night, police said.
The murder was initially attributed to gangsters, but a political motive was not immediately ruled out.
Four people were wounded by bullets during confrontations with the police and a police officer was hit by a stone hurled by the protesters, witnesses said.
Police intervened after demonstrators, angry at what they said is the deteriorating security situation in the area and accusing police of collusion with gangsters, reportedly threatened to torch a police station.
Residents said that the riots had stopped by Monday night but that tensions remained high.