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Youths from Ken-ya's ruling party beat opposition politician Richard Leakey on Thursday, and police later joined in to whip and club opposition activists and journalists, the victims and witnesses said.

Leakey, a white Kenyan and renowned conservationist whose move into the opposition this year enraged President Daniel arap Moi, showed his back covered in red weals at a news conference.Leakey, secretary-general of the Safina (Ark) party, showed his bruised hands and said he was struck on the head.

Youths identified as members of Moi's Kenya African National Union (KANU) attacked Leakey Thursday morning in Nakuru.

Leakey, who lost both legs in a plane crash in 1993 and uses artificial limbs, was whipped and clubbed by a dozen youths as he shielded a woman party official and limped to his car.

An aide pushed him inside while police fired into the air to disperse the crowd, which battered his Land Rover as he fled.

Louise Tunbridge, a British journalist for London's Daily Telegraph who was beaten in a later incident, asked policemen watching the attack on Leakey why they were doing nothing.

"They just smirked and smiled. It was obviously organized as an attack and they knew their part in it," she told reporters.

Speaking later in Nairobi, standing next to his car with all but one window smashed, Leakey said he went to Nakuru to drop off parliamentarian Paul Muite and another Safina member to visit jailed dissident Koigi wa Wamwere, who faces the death sentence if convicted of raiding a police station in 1993.

The Rift Valley provincial police said in a statement that Leakey and other Safina activists had tried to address a hostile crowd that "went wild" until police fired two shots in the air.

Leakey strongly denied he had tried to address the crowd.

He said he was talking to Safina treasurer Njeri Kabeberi "in very low voices" in the law court car park with many police Special Branch officers around when a few people approached.

"A couple of people came in with placards in Kiswahili saying `We don't want to be divided by white men.' They were fairly good-natured when they came in. Suddenly someone said, "You should go back where you came from,' " Leakey said.

"The next thing I knew, I was hit on the head by an egg and then I was pelted and then I was thoroughly beaten by whips, clubs and rocks. I just made it to the car with these artificial legs.

"We did not make any statements. We were not addressing a crowd," he told the Nairobi news conference.

"It was clearly organized by KANU people," he said. "This whole scheme is orchestrated by the government to try to get a reason to justify the refusal of registration of Safina."