By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - A Kenyan separatist movement denied on Friday accusations by the authorities that it was behind a raid in a coastal resort that killed eight people, although it said former members may have been involved.
Armed police officers shot dead six attackers and two policemen were killed in Thursday's early morning raid on a casino popular with tourists in Malindi. Officials blamed the banned Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).
A series of attacks blamed on the movement have damaged prospects for growth and investment along Kenya's coast, a major tourist draw, and in Mombasa, an economically vital port city.
"Police should stop using the MRC as a scapegoat for failing to protect Kenyans," senior MRC member Omar Bebo told Reuters. He said that criminal gangs "have taken advantage of our sour relationship with government to cause trouble".
"Some of these gangs are formed by splinter groups of youths who decamped from the MRC because we rejected their call to engage in violence. Those are the people police should be chasing," he said by telephone.
The MRC feeds off local discontent largely based on long-held grievances over land and frustration at the perceived economic marginalization of the coast by the central government.
Police suspected the group targeted the Italian-owned casino in order to steal cash to fund their activities. Four suspects were arrested and dozens of others fled.
"We know we have some youth who decided to ignore our call for peace, and might also be involved in these attacks, but we told them they are on their own," Omar said. "MRC is not responsible for their actions, and we have disowned them."
On Thursday night police increased security around a police station in Kilifi, west of Mombasa, another MRC stronghold, saying they received reports that MRC youths planned a raid.
Beatrice Gachago, area police chief, told Reuters that she had ordered more night patrols after receiving the intelligence reports. "We are not taking anything for granted," she said.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Louise Ireland)