Rival ready for dialogue in Kenya
Calls for rallies; many urge peace
NAIROBI - Kenya's opposition leader yesterday signaled he is willing to share power with the government he accuses of rigging elections, but at the same time called for mass rallies - a move that threatens renewed bloodletting.
Weary Kenyans, some hungry and homeless after a week of violence marked by clashes, prayed for peace and begged their leaders to break the political deadlock.
"This fighting is meaningless," said Eliakim Omondi, 17, at a Lutheran church in Nairobi's Kibera slum that was torched last week. "I wish they would just talk and square everything so the fighting will stop."
Pastor Dennis Meeker urged congregants kneeling before a charred cross to "be with those who tried to kill you and destroy you."
A woman dropped to the floor screaming "Forgive the people who attacked our church!"
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who said President Mwai Kibaki stole the vote, told reporters he was ready to talk about sharing power, but only through a mediator empowered to negotiate an agreement that the international community would guarantee.
He welcomed the imminent arrival of President John Kufuor of Ghana who is current chairman of the African Union and who is expected in Nairobi by tomorrow.
Jendayi Frazer, the leading US diplomat on Africa, was in Nairobi talking to both Kibaki and Odinga, whom the United States, Britain, and the European Union have urged to negotiate.
The East African nation is considered an ally in the fight against terrorism, and the explosion of violence has damaged its image as a stable democracy and attraction for millions of tourists in a region rent by wars, uprisings, and civil unrest.
More than 300 people have died and 250,000 have been forced from their homes in the upheaval over the ballot, only the second free election since Kenya gained independence in 1963 from Britain.
The troubles eased over the weekend, although there have been isolated machete fights and attacks, and police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the coastal tourist town of Mombasa.
But more clashes are possible if Odinga presses ahead with his call for supporters to rally tomorrow in defiance of a government ban. Alfred Mutua, a spokesman for the government, said any such demonstrations would be illegal.
"If there is any bloodshed during these rallies it will be the government's responsibility," Odinga told reporters.
Attempts to rally last week were blocked by police who fired tear gas, water cannons, and bullets over people's heads.
Human rights groups accuse police of excessive force and unjustified killings in the crisis, but police Commissioner Hussein Ali asserted yesterday that "We have not shot anyone."
Kibaki, reelected by a narrow margin in a vote count that international observers say was deeply flawed, said Saturday after meeting with Frazer that he was willing to form a unity government.
Odinga rejected that proposal, but his spokesman Salim Lone said the opposition is open to other solutions.