Verbal attacks stoke Kenya crisis, despite talks
NAIROBI, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Kenyans faced more turmoil on Friday after both sides in the country’s deadly political crisis accused each other of trying to sink mediation efforts.
Hopes of an end to violence that has killed nearly 700 people rose after President Mwai Kibaki met his rival Raila Odinga for the first time since disputed Dec. 27 polls.
The two men shook hands and vowed to seek a solution. But in remarks to reporters, Kibaki’s description of himself as the nation’s “duly elected” leader brought an explosive reaction from Odinga’s party, which says he stole the vote.
“Kibaki lost the last general election and his claim to the presidency is illegal and illegitimate,” Anyang’ Nyong’o, a senior opposition figure, told reporters shortly after the talks, which were brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
Nyong’o said Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) would now review the whole process and it was essential that mediation principles be agreed in writing before anything else happened.
Asked about the prospect of more direct talks, he said it would depend on Kibaki’s “good manners”. “We must be assured that Mwai Kibaki will behave himself.”
A spokesman for Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) said the opposition statement on Thursday was juvenile, disappointing and had dragged Kenya into the “deepest abyss”.
The fresh round of verbal attacks raised the prospect of more violence in a nation rocked by riots and ethnic clashes that have shattered its image of stability. “DISASTER” Annan had earlier persuaded the ODM to call off protests planned for Thursday after earlier rallies turned violent.
Many Kenyans already traumatised by their country’s slide into chaos were shocked at the swift change in tone. Henry, a hairdresser in the capital Nairobi whose business has virtually collapsed since the troubles began, was pleased Kibaki and Odinga had finally met face to face.
“Maybe they did it out of shame or obligation however,” he said.
“Kibaki’s language and their reaction is not good for us. Don’t they know all we want is peace? It’s a disaster for all of us. They have to sort this out.”
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 often degenerated into rioting and looting.
In Odinga’s western stronghold of Kisumu, some ODM supporters were angry that their man had met Kibaki at all.
“We are very disappointed. We expected to hear Kibaki will resign after meeting Raila and that they will form a transitional government together before calling for elections after few months,” said Cornelius Otieno, a jobless 22-year-old.
“Raila is now preaching for peace, like he is bowing down from demanding our justice. We will not take that from Raila.”