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Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioner Roselyn Akombe flanked by chairman Wafula Chebukati, addresses a news conference at their offices in Nairobi, Kenya, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya


By Duncan Miriri and Katharine Houreld

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The head of Kenya's election commission has said it will be "difficult" to guarantee that next week's presidential election will be free and fair, citing divisions in the commission and interference from politicians.

Wafula Chebukati said technical preparations for the poll were on course, but that conditions in the increasingly divided country would make it hard to conduct a credible vote on Oct. 26 - the rerun of an election that took place in August but was nullified.

Chebukati issued a stern warning to politicians, saying: "Ironically the very people, political leaders, who are supposed to build the nations have become the greatest threat to the peace and stability of the nation."

His remarks came after Roselyn Akombe, one of the election board's seven commissioners, quit and fled the country, saying the vote would not be credible.

Incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta restated his commitment to the poll, while his main rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, has already pulled out.

The opposition is likely to say Akombe's resignation is further evidence that the repeat election is illegitimate.

The Supreme Court last month nullified the Aug. 8 vote on procedural grounds following a petition by Odinga.

In withdrawing his candidacy last week, Odinga said the election board had not carried out reforms including the firing of key officials who he blames for the mistakes of Aug. 8.

The resignation heightens uncertainty over a vote that some independent observers say Kenyatta looks set to win.

The central bank sold dollars on Wednesday in the foreign exchange market after the Kenyan shilling weakened on news of Akombe's resignation. [nL8N1MT1F5]

Kenya is East Africa's richest country and a hub for diplomacy and security in a region struggling with conflict in Somalia and South Sudan.

At least 37 people have died in violence since the August vote, including four killed in confrontations between police and protesters in the past week. Young protesters have also broken up meetings by election officials in the opposition stronghold of western Kenya this week.

(Additional reporting by Maggie Fick and John Ndiso; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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