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Religious leaders see state role in Kenya clashes

NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) -- The violence-torn slums of Nairobi were calm on Saturday following two days of running battles between Muslim and Christian youths, Kenyan police said.

But religious leaders saw a state hand in the clashes, linking them to differences over a stalled review of the constitution which is pitting them against a parliamentary team supported by the governing KANU party and its allies.

President Daniel arap Moi appealed for calm and said the fighting was unacceptable.

Police said there had been no overnight violence from the eastern parts of the city where more than 500 policemen have been deployed.

"Today it's very calm. Business is going on as usual but we are monitoring the situation," a spokesman told Reuters.

A church and a clinic were burnt to the ground, two vehicles were reduced to ashes while the windows of the International Christian Center and two other churches and a library were shattered, a police statement issued late on Friday night said.

It said 82 youths had so far been arrested and police estimated the number involved to be about 10,000.

Twenty-eight people have been admitted in hospitals with various injuries. The injured include Archbishop David Gitari, Kenya's leading clergyman, who was hit when he went into one of the violence-hit areas to try to cool things down.

Local newspapers said a woman had been found dead in one of the shacks burnt when fighting erupted on Thursday but police said they could not confirm the death which would be the first of the conflict.

The fighting began when Muslim teenagers pulled down wooden kiosks which they said had been erected too close to a mosque in the South B housing estate on the south side of the capital.

Religious leaders have appealed for calm and are blaming the clashes on attempts to derail a church-led review of the constitution which has been opposed by the government.

"We suspect there could be a scheme to shift from the painful ethnic clashes of the past to equally devastating religious clashes," the National Council of Churches of Kenya said in a statement.

"There have been several attempts in the past to drive a wedge between us but they will not succeed," an official of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims was quoted by newspapers as saying.

And police, who have been accused of standing by while churches were torched, maintained that the violence was simply crime.

"It is fallacious for any one to report the disturbance as a religious conflict. We are simply fighting crime," police spokesman Peter Kimanthi said in a statement.

Kenya has a small Muslim population concentrated in the coastal city of Mombasa and the capital.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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