MOMBASA, Kenya A gang of youths brandishing machetes attacked a Kenyan cabinet minister at a public meeting and killed his bodyguard before the crowd beat three of the attackers to death, police said on Friday.
Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi was unharmed in the Thursday night incident, which police blamed on a separatist group campaigning for the secession of Kenya's coastal strip.
"We believe these are the people who are coming from the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). We know they have bad intentions for this region. We know that they are armed to engage in unlawful activities," Aggrey Adoli, the coastal region's police chief, told reporters.
Two of the attackers escaped, Adoli said.
MRC spokesman Mohamed Mraja denied the allegation.
"The police are not telling the truth. We were never involved," he told reporters.
"We know there are politicians who are competing for political seats in the coming elections, and are even enemies with each other. They are targeting to outdo one another using any means including sending of militia to disrupt one another's meetings. When this happens it is blamed on MRC."
Mraja's group has unnerved investors in the region, heavily dependent on tourism, by threatening to disrupt March elections if its demands for secession are rejected by Kenyan authorities.
Last month more than 100 people were killed as tribes fought over land, adding to fears of serious unrest ahead of the polls.
Nearly a quarter of Kenyans expect a presidential vote in March to be marred by post-election violence, an opinion poll showed on Friday.
(Writing by James Macharia; editing by Andrew Roche)