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Kenya's ex-VP and presidential candidate George Saitoti killed in chopper crash

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenya's former Vice President George Saitoti, who was serving as the country's security minister and was a presidential candidate in an upcoming election, was killed Sunday when a police helicopter crashed into a forest outside the capital, the government said.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga's spokesman said Odinga had been informed of the deaths of Saitoti and his deputy, Orwa Ojode.

A former long-serving vice president under the former President Daniel Arap Moi, Saitoti was also a presidential candidate in an election expected to be held by March next year.

A Reuters photographer counted three charred bodies at the scene of the crash in a forest in the Ngong area just outside of Nairobi.

Debris of the burned-out blue police helicopter were strewn in the brush where government officials and curious locals jostled to catch a glimpse.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.

According to messages posted on Kenya's Capital FM radio Twitter account, two bodyguards were also onboard and feared dead. They were accompanying Saitoti and Ojode to a church service, the station said.

Additionally, two pilots were onboard and feared dead, Capital FM reported, which would bring the death toll to six if confirmed.

Saitoti, an ally of President Mwai Kibaki, was the leading government voice against Somali militants al-Shabab, often visiting the scenes of grenade attacks inside Kenya and vowing the east African nation would crush the group.

Kenya's troops have been fighting al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia since last October. The militants have killed several people in a string of grenade attacks in Nairobi, the far north and the coast in retaliation to Kenya's moves against them.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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