January 08, 2008

Kenyan Opposition Leader Rejects Meeting


ELDORET, Kenya - Kenya's opposition leader rejected a presidential invitation for talks, calling the offer "public relations gimmickry" that would undermine international attempts to end an election standoff that has killed more than 500 people.

President Mwai Kibaki named a Cabinet dominated by his allies, undeterred by accusations he stole the vote.

Diplomatic efforts intensified to end the political violence, which has deteriorated into clashes between other tribes and Kibaki's Kikuyu, long dominant in Kenya's politics and economy.

Barack Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, phoned the opposition leader Raila Odinga "to express grave concern over the election outcome," Odinga's spokesman, Salim Lone, told The Associated Press.

Obama's spoke with Odinga for about five minutes from New Hampshire, asking the opposition leader to meet directly with President Mwai Kibaki, said the Democratic presidential candidate's spokesman.

"He urged an end to violence and that Mr. Odinga sit down, without preconditions, with President Kibaki to resolve this issue peacefully," said the spokesman, Bill Burton.

Odinga told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Obama's father was his maternal uncle, and that Obama called him twice "in the midst of his campaigning ... to express his concern and to say that he is also going to call President Kibaki so that Kibaki agrees to find a negotiated, satisfactory solution to this problem."

Obama's campaign, however, said the candidate called Odinga only once and that he was unaware the two were related except by tribal affiliation.

On Monday, Kibaki invited Odinga to his official residence for a meeting Friday, but the opposition leader declared Tuesday he would not attend. He said any meeting between the two would be "public relations gimmickry" on Kibaki's part to "deflect attention from and undermine" international mediation.

In Washington, President Bush issued a statement Tuesday welcoming African Union efforts to mediate, and urging Kibaki and Odinga "to enter this dialogue in good faith to earn back the trust of the Kenyan people, who deserve a political process that reflects their dedication to democracy."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a similar plea from London.

One proposed solution has been for Kibaki and Odinga to share power, but Kibaki announced half his Cabinet on Tuesday, including a vice president, and gave no positions to Odinga's party.

Odinga's party won 95 parliament seats and Kibaki's party 43 in legislative elections held the same day as the presidential elections, making it difficult for Kibaki to govern without making some overture to Odinga.

"What Kibaki has done is really eroding the conditions for peace talks," Karuti Kanyinga, a political scientist at the University of Nairobi, said of the new Cabinet. "For a government of national unity to have meaning, it must include Odinga and (Odinga's party), otherwise it cannot bring about reconciliation."

Cornelius Korir, the Catholic bishop of the town where dozens died when a mob torched a refugee-filled church, said Tuesday that the attacks against members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe appeared planned and organized.

Eldoret and surrounding areas have seen an exodus of Kikuyus since.

"The way the attacks were managed seems to me very organized," Korir said as the chief U.S. envoy to Africa toured the region Tuesday. "No, it did not seem spontaneous to me ... It seems it was well planned."

He did not elaborate.

Kibaki's government also has charged the attacks were orchestrated, and both sides have traded accusations that the violence amounted to genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. diplomat, rejected that accusation on Monday, saying "We would not agree that what has happened _ even the worst of what has happened _ has been a genocide."

Three former African heads of state arrived Tuesday.

"It's like seeing a neighbor's house on fire," says Mozambique's Joachim Chissano, leader of the presidential delegation. "We are shocked by the events."

Kenya is an ally in the United States' war on terrorism and has turned over dozens of people to the U.S. and Ethiopia as suspected terrorists. The country allows American forces to operate from Kenyan bases and conducts joint exercises with U.S. troops in the region.

The U.S. also is a major donor to Kenya, long seen as a stable democracy in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan. Aid amounts to roughly US$1 billion a year, said U.S. Embassy spokesman T.J. Dowling

Associated Press writers Michelle Faul, Tom Odula and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi contributed to this report.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)

The Lompoc Record

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