Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Today's Headlines - Wed 1/9/2008

Kenyan opposition fury grows

By Katharine Houreld - AP

NAIROBI, Kenya - Hundreds of Kenyans tried to flee the country's west Wednesday amid escalating opposition anger after the president named half of a new Cabinet, a line-up packed with his allies.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts intensified to end the election dispute whose resulting violence has killed more than 500 people.

The opposition accuses Kibaki of stealing the Dec. 27 presidential vote, and Kibaki's chief rival Raila Odinga has rejected his invitation to talk. The chairman of the African Union, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, was in Kenya to mediate, an effort supported by the U.S. and Britain.

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Kenyan crisis worsens as opposition cools to talks

By Jeffrey Gettleman - New York Times

NAIROBI, Kenya — The political mood darkened again in Kenya on Tuesday, with opposition leaders cooling to the idea of negotiations with the government after the president unilaterally made major cabinet appointments, a move that set off riots across the country almost immediately.

Bonfires burned in Kisumu on Lake Victoria, ethnic clashes erupted in the slums around Nairobi, the capital, and protesters began to mass in the port city of Mombasa.

The political crisis here, which has claimed at least 486 lives and probably many more, seems to be raising wider concerns, with President Bush issuing a statement urging “both sides to engage in peaceful dialogue” and Senator Barack Obama speaking to opposition leaders by telephone.

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New efforts to solve Kenyan crisis


Ghana's President John Kufuor is to begin talks with both sides involved in Kenya's crisis over disputed elections.

Mr Kufuor - current head of the African Union - will meet President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

However there is no sign the two sides will meet for direct talks to resolve the violence, which has seen hundreds of people killed and displaced.

The opposition has called Mr Kibaki's announcement of a partial cabinet on Tuesday "a slap in the face."

Protests erupted in the capital Nairobi and in the western opposition stronghold of Kisumu following the announcement.

Some 600 people are feared to have been killed, and 250,000 displaced, by post-election violence in Kenya - previously seen as a beacon of stability in east Africa.

Tensions persist

Mr Kufuor's visit is expected to build on the mediation efforts of the top US diplomat on Africa, Jendayi Frazer, who has spent several days shuttling between the two sides.

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Country Seen as Anchor to U.S. Position in the Region
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)

8 January 2008
Posted to the web 9 January 2008

By Jim Lobe

The ongoing turmoil in Kenya, set off by last week's disputed election results, is prompting considerable concern here about the future of the East African nation that has served as Washington's longest-standing and most reliable ally in a deeply troubled region.

The administration of President George W. Bush dispatched its top Africa aide, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Fraser, to Nairobi Friday to help mediate between the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The crisis, which has reportedly claimed at least 600 lives in ethnic clashes between Kibaki's mainly Kikuyu loyalists and members of Odinga's Luo and other smaller minority groups, was set off by the Dec. 30 declaration by the electoral commission that Kibaki had narrowly won re-election.

Despite widespread evidence of fraud and other irregularities, U.S. ambassador Michael Ranneberger quickly congratulated Kibaki, a position that Washington was forced to reverse in the days that followed. On Jan. 2, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Milliband joined the African Union (AU) in a call for an end to the ethnic violence and for a "compromise" among the country's political leaders "that puts the democratic interests of Kenya first".

Amid indications of progress both in tamping down the violence and in arranging some kind of power-sharing agreement, Fraser, who has met with both Kibaki and Odinga, extended her stay in Nairobi this week, the State Department announced Tuesday.

Analysts here said they were worried that Kibaki's unilateral naming of 17 cabinet members Tuesday could re-inflame the situation, particularly because of its timing -- immediately before the arrival of AU President John Kufuor, who is to take charge of the mediation effort.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormick Tuesday denounced Kibaki's move as "disappointing" and stressed that both sides needed to "find a way to open up channels of communication so that they can come to a mutually acceptable political solution to get themselves out of this political crisis."
Kenya has long served as an anchor for U.S. economic and geo-strategic interests in East Africa and a major beneficiary of U.S. economic and military assistance. Its possible destabilisation as a result of political and ethnic tensions is of considerable concern here.

"Kenya is tremendously important to the U.S. and to the region," according to Michelle Gavin, an Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The idea of a seriously weakened state or the prospect of a failed state in Kenya -- which would [effectively extend] the failed-state space already occupied by Somalia -- is hugely problematic."

Indeed, Kenya has been a key ally and fellow-victim in Washington's anti-terrorist efforts since even before the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. More than 200 Kenyans were killed and several thousand more wounded in the 1998 al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

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