Odinga Rejects Talks With Kenyan Leader

By Katharine Houreld
Associated Press
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ELDORET, Kenya, Jan. 8 -- Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga rejected a presidential invitation for talks, calling the offer "public relations gimmickry" that would undermine international attempts to end a violent election standoff in which more than 500 people have died.

President Mwai Kibaki, undeterred by accusations that he stole the vote, named half of his cabinet without including any members of Odinga's party.

Diplomatic efforts intensified to end the violence, which has often pitted Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long dominant in Kenya's politics and economy, against other ethnic groups.

Barack Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, spoke with Odinga for about five minutes from New Hampshire, asking the opposition leader to meet directly with Kibaki, according to a spokesman for the Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate.

"He urged an end to violence and that Mr. Odinga sit down, without preconditions, with President Kibaki to resolve this issue peacefully," said the spokesman, Bill Burton.

Odinga told the BBC that Obama's father was his maternal uncle and that Obama called him twice "in the midst of his campaigning . . . to express his concern and to say that he is also going to call President Kibaki so that Kibaki agrees to find a negotiated, satisfactory solution to this problem."

Obama's campaign, however, said that the candidate called Odinga only once and that he was unaware the two were related except by tribal affiliation.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the chief U.S. envoy for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, would stay in Kenya for as long as she feels she can play a useful role. The United States, he said, has encouraged both sides to talk.

President Bush issued a statement Tuesday welcoming African Union efforts to mediate and urging Kibaki and Odinga "to enter this dialogue in good faith to earn back the trust of the Kenyan people." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a similar plea from London.

One proposed solution has been for Kibaki and Odinga to share power, but in announcing half of his cabinet, including a vice president, Kibaki gave no positions to Odinga's party.

Odinga's party won 95 parliament seats and Kibaki's party 43 in elections held the same day as the presidential vote, making it difficult for Kibaki to govern without making some overture to Odinga.

Cornelius Korir, the Catholic bishop of the town where dozens died when a mob torched a church filled with refugees from ethnic violence, said Tuesday that the attacks against members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe appeared planned.

The town of Eldoret and surrounding areas have experienced an exodus of Kikuyus since.

"The way the attacks were managed seems to me very organized," Korir said as Frazer, the U.S. envoy, toured the region. "No, it did not seem spontaneous to me. . . . It seems it was well planned." He did not elaborate.


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