Thursday, January 24, 2008

Breaking News - Leaders Meet with Annan, Shake Hands 1/24/2008

Kenyan rivals meet face-to-face

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, have met for the first time since last month's disputed presidential election.

The talks in Nairobi were mediated by former UN chief Kofi Annan, who said some first steps had been taken towards a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Weeks of violence followed the election results, which Mr Odinga has rejected.

After the talks, his party condemned a statement by Mr Kibaki in which he said he was the "duly elected president".

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing opposition officials of helping to organise ethnic violence in the Rift Valley region, in which hundreds of Mr Kibaki's Kikuyu community were deliberately targeted and killed.

I can't go back to Kapkenduywa primary school because I will be killed by
Kimani Nganga Maruge
Kenya's oldest school pupil

"We have evidence that Orange Democratic Movement politicians and local leaders actively fomented some post-election violence," said Human Rights Watch's acting Africa director.

ODM spokesman Salim Lone said HRW should provide concrete evidence before jeopardising mediation efforts. The party has denied previous accusations of ethnic cleansing.

The unrest triggered by the election on 27 December has left more than 650 people dead and driven 250,000 from their homes.

'Extra mile'
The breakthrough meeting, which last about one-and-a-half hours, was hosted by Mr Annan at the president's office at Harambee House in central Nairobi.

Afterwards, the former UN secretary general emerged to say progress had been made during the meeting, describing it as "a very encouraging development".

We have taken the first vital steps in resolving electoral disputes - I ask everyone to be patient and uphold peace in a spirit of brotherhood Raila Odinga Orange Democratic Movement
"I think we have begun to take some first steps towards a peaceful solution of the problem, and as you can see, the two leaders are here to underline their engagement to dialogue and to work together for a just and sustainable peace," he said.

He was followed by Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki, who both made statements in front of dozens of cameramen and journalists outside, and a few hundred people who had gathered in the street opposite.

Both men shook hands with broad smiles and expressed their commitment to peace and asked their supporters to maintain calm as they continued the newly established dialogue.

"We have taken the first vital steps in resolving electoral disputes," Mr Odinga said.

"I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis," he added. "We are ready to walk the extra mile if that will enable Kenyans to get peace."

Mr Kibaki also welcomed the talks and insisted he was committed to dialogue.

"As government, we are determined to get to the underlying causes of these unprecedented events and to lead the nation in a process of healing, reconciliation and lasting harmony," he said after Mr Odinga's statement.

Differences between the two remained, however, with Mr Odinga insisting on a sustainable peace being dependent on justice and Mr Kibaki stating he had been "sworn in as your duly elected president of Kenya".

Mr Kibaki's comment was later criticised by the opposition, who said it showed he had "no intention whatsoever of embarking on this journey with the people of Kenya".

"We denounce and categorically reject the unfortunate statement from Mr Mwai Kibaki that he is the duly elected president of Kenya and that the current crisis can be resolved internally," ODM Secretary General Anyang N'yongo said.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Nairobi says the symbolism and significance of this meeting was enormous, but there is still a great deal of work to be done and compromise required for them to resolve their differences and reach an agreed way forward.

Detailed talks between the rivals are due to begin in the morning.

The announcement of the talks came as a surprise to many in Nairobi. Several earlier attempts to get the rivals to meet had failed, with Mr Kibaki insisting on direct talks and Mr Odinga refusing to meet without a mediator.

On Wednesday, Mr Odinga called off a mass protest planned for Thursday in Nairobi after holding talks with Mr Annan.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/01/24 17:49:48 GMT© BBC MMVIII

Rival Kenyan Leaders Meet, Promise to Work for Peace

January 24, 2008 12:40 p.m.

NAIROBI, Kenya --
President Mwai Kibaki and challenger Raila Odinga met for the first time since December
elections exploded into violence, a first step in negotiations aimed at ending a political stalemate here between the two men.

Further talks will be mediated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who arrived in Kenya on Tuesday. Violence flared here after allegations of irregularities in presidential elections last month. More than 650 have died, and the violence has displaced as many as 225,000 in ethnic clashes.

Thursday, after meeting for about 75 minutes, Messrs. Kibaki and Odinga stood stiffly beside each other on the steps of Harambee House, the office of the president in downtown Nairobi, and shook hands. Across the street, hundreds of onlookers cheered.

"I think we began to take some fair steps towards a peaceful solution to the problem," Mr. Annan told reporters. But he downplayed hopes for a quick fix, saying that he and other moderators -- including former South African First Lady Graca Michel and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa -- would work together with both men in the "coming weeks and months to ensure that we resolve this tense situation."

Mr. Odinga, whose party cancelled a protest planned for Thursday, said his side was "ready to walk the extra mile" to find a solution.

The Orange Democratic Movement has called for protests across the country in recent weeks in defiance of a government ban. "I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis," he said.

But Mr. Kibaki made it clear he wasn't ready to cede his election victory, despite widespread condemnation of the vote. He referred to himself as "your duly elected president of Kenya."

Before his statement, an aide swapped the ordinary microphone for a blue podium emblazoned with Kenya's national emblem. "I remain committed to dialogue and reconciliation of all levels of our society," he said, but added that the dialogue will be conducted "within our constitutional and legal framework."

After speaking to reporters, the men and their teams went back inside for further talks.

Until now, both camps seemed at an impasse. Mr. Odinga insisted that Mr. Kibaki, whom he accuses of rigging the election, surrender the presidency. Mr. Kibaki has maintained that he was fairly elected.

Nairobi was calm Thursday. But in Mr. Odinga's stronghold of Kisumu, young men burned tires in protest after police fired tear gas at a memorial service attended Wednesday by Mr. Odinga. Two were reported dead in the Rift Valley town of Molo.

Full story from Wall Street Journal

Kenyan rivals meet, but opposition slams Kibaki

Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:41pm IST
By Nick Tattersall and Daniel Wallis

NAIROBI (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.

But despite the warm body language, the opposition later said President Mwai Kibaki's statement that he was the country's "duly elected" leader undermined all mediation efforts.

Former U.N. boss Kofi Annan had brokered the first meeting between Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga since disputed Dec. 27 polls cast the nation into turmoil killing nearly 700 people.

Annan said "fair steps" towards a peaceful solution had been made during the closed-door discussions and hundreds of onlookers cheered as both men shook hands and smiled at each other before vowing to resolve the crisis.

But Kibaki's phrase "As I pointed out after being sworn in as your duly elected President of Kenya.." prompted an angry response from Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

"It is now absolutely clear to the country that Mr Kibaki has no intention whatsoever of embarking on this journey with the people of Kenya," ODM Secretary-General Anyang' Nyong'o told a news conference two hours later.

"His demeaning and unacceptable behaviour was clearly meant to undermine the mediation effort and to prolong the suffering of the people of Kenya," Nyong'o said.

The criticism dampened hopes raised by the meeting, which had long been demanded by Western powers and millions of anxious Kenyans horrified by their country's slide into chaos.

Annan had previously persuaded the ODM to call off protests planned for Thursday after earlier such rallies turned violent.

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.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Bryson Hull, Duncan Miriri and Joseph Sudah)

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

Full story from Reuters India

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