MOMBASA (Reuters) - Eight people were killed when dozens of machete-wielding raiders struck a casino popular with tourists and local Italian residents in the coastal Kenyan town of Malindi early on Thursday morning, police said.
Armed officers shot dead six of the attackers suspected to be members of a banned coastal separatist group while two policeman were also killed, police official Ambrose Munyasia said.
A series of attacks blamed on the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) has damaged the prospects for growth and investment along Kenya's coast, a major tourist draw, and in Mombasa, an economically vital port city.
"A gang of 50 MRC suspects armed with machetes and other crude weapons raided a casino in Malindi and started attacking patrons before police were called," Munyasia told Reuters from the city of Mombasa, about 120 km south of Malindi.
He said it was not immediately clear if any of the casino's guests had been hurt.
Mounting insecurity on the resort-packed region will be a pressing issue for Kenya's next president after an election earlier this month whose result is still being challenged in the country's supreme court.
MRC could not be reached for comment on Thursday's attack. The group's spokesman was arrested last week on suspicion of involvement in attacks hours before the presidential and legislative elections on March 4 left 15 people dead.
The MRC feeds off local discontent largely based on long-held grievances over land and frustration at the perceived economic marginalization of the region by the central government.
Thursday's attack occurred around 3 a.m. It is thought the group targeted the Italian-owned casino in order to steal cash to fund their activities, Munyasia said.
(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing By Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Richard Lough and Patrick Graham)