Police fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of protesters in several Kenyan cities on Wednesday, killing at least two people on the first of three planned days of nationwide protests over last month's disputed elections.

kenya-soldier-cp-417828

Kenyan police officers patrol the streets Wednesday as they work to break up a large opposition demonstration in the city of Eldoret. ((Ben Curtis/Associated Press))

In Nairobi's downtown core, business owners shut their doors amid fears of looting as security forces chased opposition leaders from the streets.

The protesters, including opposition leader Raila Odinga, were attempting to reach the city's popular Uhuru Park, which was surrounded by riot police on horseback.

Odinga, who vowed to lead the march, was riding in a vehicle when tear gas canisters were fired at the crowd and did not make it to the park, according to reports.

In fear of being caught up in potential skirmishes, thousands of panicked office workers in suits and high heels streamed out of the downtown core on foot.

Rain dampens rally turnouts

Witnesses reported at least two dead in clashes across the country, according to wire services, while at least three were wounded as police blocked hundreds of young men from gathering to march in a slum outside the capital Nairobi.

kenya-cp-4176566

Opposition party supporters chant their grievances near a burning barricade in the western Kenyan city of Kisumu on Wednesday. ((Darko Bandic/Associated Press))

Many of the other planned rallies, dampened by rain across the country, did not develop into serious clashes, with most of the crowds broken up by police.

Similar protests earlier this month degenerated into widespread violence in Nairobi and other cities, with security forces beating back mobs of angry youths with water cannons, batons, tear gas and live bullets, as homes in the slums burned.

More than 600 Kenyans have died and roughly 250,000 others have been displaced in the turmoil that has rocked the once-stable African nation following President Mwai Kibaki's swearing-in ceremony last month.

The opposition has said the vote was rigged and is demanding Kibaki resign to make way for a new election, while international attempts to mediate a solution to the dispute have failed.

The dispute has sparked ethnic violence as various tribes aligned with political sides attacked each other following bloody clashes with police.

Odinga, whose supporters believe he was robbed of the presidency, had called for the protests in more than 40 cities across the country, despite a government ban.

"Nothing will stop us from mounting these rallies," he said Wednesday before the rally. 

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan was expected in Nairobi Tuesday on a mediation mission, but the visit has been postponed because he has fallen ill.

With files from the Associated Press