At least 24 people have died in fighting between residents of a central Kenyan town and suspected members of the outlawed Mungiki sect, police say.

A police spokesman, Charles Owino, said residents of Karatina had decided to fight back because the sect had been extorting money from local people.

Media reports say there has been a spate of killings targeting the sect.

The Mungiki, mainly from President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, are seen as Kenya’s version of the mafia.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe urged local people not to take the law into their own hands.

Reports say groups of residents started attacking suspected Mungiki members and slashing some of them to death, after the gang had threatened to expel everyone from the town.

At least three more people were wounded in the violence.

Mr Kiraithe said the Mungiki fought back.

“We understand that the Mungiki also regrouped and engaged the locals in an all-out war in the villages,” he said.

“All of those killed were hacked or stoned to death. Our officers tried to restore order, otherwise the situation could have degenerated into something much worse than it is.”

He added that 37 people had been arrested and more were being hunted. Machetes and other weapons were being collected from the scene.

The Mungiki gang has continued to operate despite being banned in 2002, extorting money from owners of minibus taxis and other public transport vehicles.

In 2007 more than 100 suspected sect members were killed in a police crackdown after a series of grisly beheadings blamed on the sect.

Last year it was accused of carrying out revenge attacks after ethnic Kikuyus were killed by rival gangs in post-election violence.



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