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Kenya leaders agree to talk

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) — A U.S. envoy trying to quell Kenya’s post-election tensions has persuaded the president and the opposition leader to sit down and address vote-counting irregularities and the ensuing violence in which nearly 500 people have been killed.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer told CNN on Monday that she was able to get President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to agree to talk under the mediation of the African Union’s chairman by relaying the concerns of the Kenyan people.

I was simply able to echo that voice with the leaders, Frazer said. They both have to acknowledge certain key issues — for instance that … there were irregularities in the counting of the vote … and that violence is not the answer to these problems.

I think that both are prepared to move the country forward on an understanding of that basis.

In a comment directed to the Kenyan people, Frazer was particularly blunt, telling them the election had been rigged and they had been cheated by their political leaders and institutions.

The AU chairman — Ghanaian President John Kufuor — is expected to arrive in Kenya Tuesday evening to mediate talks between the two Kenyan leaders, Frazer said.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush released a statement condemning the violence and saying he was heartened by the latest news.

The Government of Kenya has acknowledged that voting irregularities have occurred, and the Orange Democratic Movement has pledged to refrain from further protests that could detract from reconciliation efforts, he said. I now urge both sides to enter this dialogue in good faith to earn back the trust of the Kenyan people.

Kibaki has invited Odinga to take part in talks Friday at the president’s official residence, the State House, according to government spokesman Alfred Mutua. Reacting to that written invitation, Odinga’s spokesman said the opposition leader would be happy to meet Mr. Kibaki on Friday if it is part of the negotiations that are to be mediated by President Kufuor of Ghana.

International mediation is a key demand of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, which has accused Kibaki of stealing his re-election victory.

In an effort to make way for the mediation efforts, Odinga’s opposition party agreed to call off countrywide protests scheduled for Tuesday which had sparked fears of more violent confrontations with government forces.

Odinga supporters trying to attend a scheduled rally in Nairobi last week were met with water cannons and tear gas before the party agreed to postpone the demonstration.

Frazer was dispatched to Kenya on Friday to help find a diplomatic solution to the political fallout that led to the widespread killings between supporters of Kibaki, a member of the large Kikuyu tribe, and supporters of Odinga, who comes from the minority Luo tribe. The violence has been concentrated in Nairobi and near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret in western Kenya, where international aid began pouring in over the weekend.

Frazer said she hopes the mediated discussions will focus on more than just the power struggle between Kibaki and Odinga.

Kenya is going to (have) a long future of instability if, in fact, they don’t address the fundamental questions, Frazer said.

Getting the politicians to dialogue is not just about the past election — it’s about the future of this country and owning up to the real crises that we are all seeing the evidence of over the past week.

The Kenyan government said Monday that the death toll reached 482 people. The United Nations says roughly 250,000 people have been displaced by the violence since the Dec. 27 vote.

International election monitors have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote, but the United States does not want to push for any solution that says there’s a fresh round of elections, Frazer said.

The U.S. sees a power-sharing arrangement as an option, but Kenyans would have to decide what shape such an an arrangement takes, a U.S. official said.

Kibaki has said he is ready to consider a government of national unity, but it is not clear if he is prepared to enter into a power-sharing arrangement with Odinga. Kibaki’s spokesman said the president is ready to work with like-minded parties.

We do want a strong opposition, otherwise we would have a one-party state, Mutua added.

While Odinga has indicated he is willing to negotiate, he has not backed down from his demands that Kibaki resign and hold fresh elections.

The United States is also pushing to get a ban on live broadcasts lifted, the U.S. official said. The country plunged into a news blackout after the government suspended all broadcasts as violence engulfed the capital.

Frazer’s blunt talk reflected a new tact for the United States, which initially responded to the election by congratulating the Kenyan people, then spoke of irregularities.

In Washington on Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, Sometimes diplomacy is about telling it like it is. It’s not always about polite words. She (Frazer) is doing a great job out there. I know the secretary (Condoleezza Rice) thinks she’s been doing a great job out there.

He said there needs to be a made-in-Kenya solution to the situation, and that solution would be a political accommodation that defuses the crisis and, more importantly, ensures there is no further loss of life. These political leaders owe it to the Kenyan people to find a solution.
found here.

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January 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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