NAIROBI — AN unexpected outburst of violence against celebrated white Kenyan paleontologist Richard Leakey, who recently formed an opposition party, appears to have changed the rules in the already tense game of politics in Kenya. Dr. Leakey was attacked earlier this month by a mob of men in business suits wielding leather whips and clubs while on a visit with officials from his unregistered Safina party to the Rift Valley province, the home area of President Daniel arap Moi. The assailants were identified by local people as members of the youth wing of the ruling Kenya African National Union's (KANU). The large numbers of policemen in the vicinity made no move to intervene during the attack. The attack on Leakey, who lost both legs in a plane crash in 1993 and who uses artificial limbs, sent shockwaves through the diplomatic community. The British, Kenya's former colonial power, condemned what it described as ''politically motivated violence.'' The United States urged the government to respect civil rights to which its aid is linked. Leakey's entry into opposition politics has caused the biggest stir since Kenya won independence in 1963. In the first democratic elections held in 1992, President Moi, under pressure from Western donors to reform, swept back into power as tribal and personality squabbles spoiled the chances of the opposition parties. Since the elections, foreign governments have complained about the Moi government's backsliding on political and economic liberalization programs, of the failure to halt corruption, and of a growing disregard for human rights. Leakey is seen by many Kenyans as capable of organizing a party which could offer the opposition a fresh start. He says Safina, which means ''Noah's Ark'' in Swahili, aims to ''clean up'' a country plagued by ''corruption, mismanagement, and failing services.'' Western reporter attacked Later the same day, a group of Safina officials and journalists were similarly attacked as they attempted to visit Safina founding member, Koigi wa Wamwere, currently in prison on an armed robbery charge. This reporter was first hit by a prison officer in the back with a truncheon, and the blows were repeated more intensely even after this reporter identified herself as a foreign journalist. A squad of 20 prison officers wearing full riot gear - helmets, visors, and shields - closed in around the group. A mob of young men approaching were identified by local people as ''youth-wingers'' (thugs) of the ruling KANU party. After repeated attacks, including whiplashes, one of the youths called off his henchmen. They threatened to kill this reporter if she reported what had happened. Official claims no evidence Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka accused Leakey of provoking trouble by going to Nakuru and of ''stage managing'' the event to win international sympathy. Mr. Musyoka said there was insufficient evidence to implicate either the police or Kanu members in the violence. ''It was clearly organized by Kanu people,'' Leakey said after the incident. ''They are trying to set us up. It is clear they are trying to make out that Safina is a party of anarchy and violence. I can assure all of you that if I believed that Safina had an agenda of violence, I would walk out the moment I discovered it.'' Leakey has been verbally abused since announcing the formation of Safina in May. Rather than as a politician, he is known for his work on early humans and later as head of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), where he succeeded in raising money from donors to stamp out poaching. Moi has accused him of being a racist and a colonialist and warned that Kenya will ''never again be ruled by a white man.'' The government has refused to register Safina, and last month issued a statement accusing the party of fomenting a campaign of civil unrest in the country. Attorney General Amos Wako ordered the police to carry out a full inquiry into Leakey's beating by Aug. 25. No report was issued. Among other evidence, local newspapers have handed over photographs taken at the scene which identify some of the whip-wielding attackers. Leakey has written a statement to the police, but said that Safina would also be running an independent inquiry. He says that he cannot trust the police to find the culprits. Observers say that while the police inquiry may indeed lead to some prosecutions, the highly charged political atmosphere seems conducive to more violence in the future. Senior government members have openly expressed their approval of Leakey's treatment by his assailants. Assistant minister Shariff Nassir was quoted in the local press as saying Leakey would get a ''good beating from patriotic Kenyans'' if he continued meddling in their affairs. He dismissed the attack in Nakuru as ''just three strokes given to a muzungu (white man).''