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Kenyan rivals meet for initial crisis talks

©

Latest update : 2008-01-28

President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands at their first crisis meeting since the disputed elections. They pledged to seek an end to weeks of unrest that have killed nearly 700 people.

 

Weeks after post- fraudulent elections led to inter-ethnic violence throughout Kenya killing some 700 people and displacing over 200 000 others, President Kibaki finally met his rival Odinga face-to-face today thanks to the mediating efforts of Kofi Annan. However, the question of whether or not Kenyans can coexist peacefully still remains unclear.

 

In some of Nairobi’s slums, residents have to flee their homes for fear of revenge attacks from neighbours who don’t approve of their opposing ethnic origins or political beliefs. Julius is one such person. An ethnic Kikuyu who is living in Kairobangi slum among a Luo majority, Julius must be escorted by police to salvage the last of his belongings.

 

Just one kilometer away, in a bustling textile factory of 6.000 workers the inter-ethnic spirit is totally different. Luos and Kikuyu work side by side, peacefully. This feeling is felt not only in Nairobi, but throughout Kenya where people are convinced that the end of the political crisis will mean that people can live together in peace again.
 
 

NAIROBI, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The two rivals in Kenya's political crisis met on Thursday for the first time since a disputed election and pledged to seek an end to weeks of unrest that have killed nearly 700 people.
 
Hundreds of onlookers clapped and cheered as President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands and smiled warmly at each other after the discussions, which were brokered by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
 
"I think we began to take some fair steps towards a peaceful solution," Annan told reporters gathered outside Kibaki's central Nairobi office, where the talks took place.
 
The two leaders had not talked since the Dec. 27 polls despite intense pressure from Western powers and millions of anxious Kenyans horrified by their country's slide into chaos.
 
Odinga, who says Kibaki's team stole the election, said talks would continue until a solution was found. "My team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis," he said.
 
Kibaki vowed to lead the east African nation to unity.
 
"I appeal to all Kenyans to remain calm and to shun violence as we endeavour to find solutions," he said. "I am confident that together, our experience, unity and determination will make it possible for us to overcome the challenges."
 
The meeting was a major breakthrough in nearly four weeks of unrest in Kenya. But none of the three participants elaborated on the content of their talks.
 
Annan had previously persuaded the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to call off protests planned for Thursday after earlier such rallies turned violent.
 

 
ETHNIC KILLINGS
 
The ODM had demanded an outside mediator to solve a crisis that has split Kenya down tribal and political lines, after Kibaki narrowly won the closest election in the country's history following a vote rife with rigging.
 
Hundreds have died and 250,000 been forced to flee their homes in a combination of politically incited ethnic killings and police action to quell protests that frequently degenerated into rioting and looting.
 
In Odinga's western stronghold of Kisumu on Thursday, some youths burned tyres, saying they were angry their leader had been caught in police teargas on Wednesday at a memorial service for some of the dead. Local media said four people were killed in violence in the Rift Valley towns of Molo and Nakuru.
 
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had evidence from Rift Valley that ODM politicians and local leaders "actively fomented some post-election violence".
 
"Opposition leaders are right to challenge Kenya's rigged presidential poll, but they can't use it as an excuse for targeting ethnic groups," HRW's Georgette Gagnon said.
 
The Rift has seen some of the worst turmoil, including the burning to death in a church of 30 members of Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group by members of the Kalenjin tribe.
 
HRW said at least 400 had been killed in ethnic clashes in the region, and that ODM mobilisers and local elders urged Kalenjins to contribute money to buy automatic weapons.
 
It quoted Kalenjin sources who said plans were still in place to attack camps for displaced Kikuyus and so far unaffected areas. It urged police to step up protection. ODM leaders deny any wrongdoing.
 
The bloodshed has shattered Kenya's image as a stable, democratic country with the region's strongest economy. Its core tourism industry has seen mass cancellations and the shilling currency hit an 18-month low on Wednesday before recovering.

Date created : 2008-01-25

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