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Kenya opposition: Death toll 1,000

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Under U.S. pressure, Kenya’s president and his chief rival agreed to talks and made other concessions to end their deadly election dispute.

The opposition, meanwhile, claimed violence, much of it fueled by tribal rivalries, has killed up to 1,000 people, but the government put the toll at nearly 500.

The top American envoy to Africa said the vote count at the heart of the dispute was tampered with but that both sides could have been involved. The Dec. 27 election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for another five-year term. Fiery opponent Raila Odinga came in a close second.

Yes, there was rigging, the U.S. envoy, Jendayi Frazer, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday in Nairobi, where she has been meeting with Kibaki and Odinga for the past three days.

I mean there were problems with the vote counting process. She added: Both the parties could have rigged. She said she did not want to blame either Kibaki or Odinga.

Kenya’s electoral commission chairman Samuel Kivuiti has himself said he is not sure Kibaki won, though the chairman officially declared Kibaki the winner in the closest presidential election in Kenya’s history.

Both sides softened their tones amid the U.S. intervention. Kenya is crucial to the war on terrorism, having turned over dozens of people to the U.S. and Ethiopia as suspected terrorists. It also 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 $1 billion a year, said embassy spokesman T.J. Dowling.

Frazer said the violence hasn’t shaken our confidence in Kenya as a regional hub.

Three former African heads of state also arrived in Nairobi. Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano said they would tour troubled slum areas Tuesday but would not say whether he, Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania intended to try to mediate.

It’s like seeing a neighbor’s house on fire, Chissano said. We are shocked by the events.

The violence has marked some of the darkest times since Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963, with much of the fighting degenerating into riots pitting other tribes against Kibaki’s Kikuyu, long dominant in politics and the economy.

An official in neighboring Uganda said 30 fleeing Kenyans were thrown into the border river by Kenyan attackers, and were presumed drowned.

Two Ugandan truck drivers carrying the group said they were stopped Saturday at a roadblock mounted by vigilantes who identified the refugees as Kikuyus and threw them into the deep, swift-flowing Kipkaren River, said Himbaza Hashaka, a Ugandan border official. The drivers said none survived, Hashaka said.

A statement Monday from the Ministry of Special Programs put the death toll at 486 with some 255,000 people displaced from their homes.

The toll, which did not include the drownings at the border, was compiled by a special committee of humanitarian services set up by the government which extensively toured areas most affected by riots.

But Odinga’s party said nearly 1,000 people had died, saying its figure came from supporters who had called in from all over the country.

On Monday, Kibaki invited Odinga to his official residence for a meeting Friday to discuss how to end the political and ethnic turmoil, according to a statement from the president’s press service. Just hours earlier, Odinga called off nationwide rallies amid fears they would spark new bloodshed.

Odinga’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said Odinga will meet with Kibaki, as long as the meeting is part of the mediation process with African Union chairman John Kufuor, the Ghanaian president. Kufuor’s trip to Kenya had been delayed repeatedly as the government rejected outside mediation in the disputed vote, but was to begin talks in the capital as early as Wednesday.

Frazer had won an offer from Kibaki to form a unity government over the weekend. Odinga then said he was willing to drop demands that Kibaki resign and was willing to discuss sharing power, but only through a mediator empowered to negotiate an agreement that the international community would guarantee.

It would be nearly impossible for Kibaki to govern without opposition support. In parliamentary elections held the same day as the presidential vote, Odinga’s party won 95 of 210 legislative seats, and half of Kibaki’s Cabinet lost their seats. It was a sign of people’s anger over pervasive corruption and nepotism that favored Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe.
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January 8, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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