Annan in Kenya for election row mediation talks

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan was due to hold talks today to mediate in the deadly dispute over Kenya’s presidential election, and the opposition said it was willing to reconsider plans for protest rallies this week.

Mr Annan will try to bring President Mwai Kibaki and his main challenger, Raila Odinga, together after the December 27 poll which foreign observers say was deeply flawed.

Some 685 people have been killed in an explosion of post-election riots and ethnic fighting.

“I am confident that, in this crucial endeavour, we can count on the will, maturity, resourcefulness and judgment of the leaders,” Mr Annan said last night, adding that a solution must be found “for the sake of Kenya and its people and for the sake of Africa”.

Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement has called for another “peaceful protest” tomorrow, in defiance of a ban and despite the deaths of at least 24 people in three days of protests last week – most blamed on police.

But Mr Odinga’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said today that ODM would be willing to reconsider.

“If Mr Kofi Annan asks ODM to cancel the rally, we will of course consider it very seriously,” he said.

The opposition was holding a memorial gathering in the capital today to honour those who died.

Beatrice Michael Achieng, 35, who washes clothes in a Nairobi slum, was at the mortuary to collect the body of her 13-year-old daughter, who was shot just outside their home. The memorial procession began at the mortuary.

“I think the protests should stop. I don’t want to hear about Raila. I don’t want to hear about Kibaki. My daughter is gone and we need peace,” she said.

“I am feeling very bitter and angry at the police. I haven’t eaten since the day my daughter died. She was my first born and I’ve even thought of hanging myself.”

Police in Kenya’s western Rift Valley Province reported that a mob burned a man to death in his car because he could not speak his attackers’ language.

The attack happened in Molo town, 100 miles (170km north west of Nairobi, just after the man dropped his children at school, said Rift Valley Province police chief Everette Wasike.

Both sides in the dispute have traded accusations of who is behind the violence, with both the government and the opposition saying they will take each other to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

“The complaint states that crimes against humanity and state-sponsored terrorism are being committed by individuals as part of a systematic plan to target selected civilian populations in pursuit of political goals,” said Anyang Nyongo, secretary-general of Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the government is preparing “a watertight” case against the opposition’s leadership for “crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing”.

“We were the first to talk about taking them to the International Criminal Court and what we are seeing is that they are trying to pre-empt that,” Mr Mutua told The Associated Press.

It was not clear if the complaints would result in an international investigation. The Hague-based court has looked into information sent to it by scores of groups citing possible abuses in places ranging from Iraq to Ivory Coast, but has not yet opened a formal investigation based on such tips. It also investigates complaints sent to it by the UN Security Council or countries that signed the treaty creating the court in 2002.

Kenya’s December 27 election returned Mr Kibaki to power for a second five-year term, with official results putting Mr Odinga second in the closest presidential race in the country’s history.

Foreign and local election observers have said the vote count was deeply flawed. Although the electoral chief pronounced Mr Kibaki the victor, he later said he had been pressured to do so and did not know who won.

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