Wires

Kenya coast separatist official charged with inciting violence

* Separatists spokesman pleads not guilty, released on bond

* Secessionist want coastal tourist zone to be independent

* Group says it will disrupt polls if not allowed separation

By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA, Kenya, Oct 8 (Reuters) - A senior leader of aseparatist group campaigning for the secession of Kenya'scoastal strip was charged in court on Monday with incitingmembers of his group to disobey the law by declaring the coastis not a part of the east African country.

Mohamed Mraja, the spokesman for the Mombasa RepublicanCouncil (MRC), denied the charges which came days after fourpeople were killed when a gang of youths brandishing machetestried to attack a Kenyan cabinet minister at a public meeting.

Police linked the attack to the MRC and said they had alsoarrested four others believed to be officials of the group. TheMRC denied any involvement.

The MRC has unnerved investors in the famed tourist haven bythreatening to disrupt March elections if its demands forsecession are rejected by Kenyan authorities.

Analysts fear any unrest could turn the tourist hot spot -with its sandy beaches and pristine waters a jewel in the EastAfrican nation's economy - into a potential flashpoint, fuellingwider fears of ethnic violence and riots during the elections.

MRC's grievances stem from what they call decades ofmarginalisation of the coast region in key economic areasincluding education and jobs by the central government.

Mraja escaped an early morning raid by police at his home,and from his hiding place told reporters he feared he would bekilled over his public demands for secession.

He later turned himself in accompanied by lawyers, and saidother senior officials of the MRC group were also in hiding.

"They are tracking my phone calls, threatening my family andfriends and have now arrested my wife, but released her shortlyafter," he told reporters earlier from his hiding place.

"If I was in the house at that time, you probably mightnever have heard of me again."

Police said they wanted Mraja for questioning and possibleprosecution, but denied any intention to kill him.

The court freed Mraja on bond pending his trial.

Police say the group is also planning to disrupt nationalschool examinations at the coast due to start next month.

Next year's vote will be the first since a war crimes courtlaunched cases against four Kenyans, including two presidentialhopefuls in the 2013 election.

The two are accused of masterminding tribal violence thatkilled more than 1,200 people following a disputed 2007presidential poll.

Last month more than 100 people were killed as tribes foughtover land further north along the coast, adding to fears ofserious unrest ahead of the polls.

(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Jon Hemming)

((nairobi.newsroom@reuters.com)(Tel: +254 20 222 4717))

Keywords: KENYA COAST/