More violence in Kenya as AU starts talks

President Mwai Kibaki’s appointment of a partial Cabinet sparked more violence in Kenya overnight as the African Union (AU) began talks on Wednesday to end post-election turmoil that has killed about 500 people.

After a lull in clashes sparked by Kibaki’s disputed re-election on December 27, he named 17 ministers late on Tuesday, prompting further protests around East Africa’s largest economy.

Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, said the appointments—which included a defeated presidential candidate and several figures hated by the opposition—may “poison the atmosphere”.

“To President Kibaki’s supporters, it will be an affirmation of his position,” the paper said.

“To everyone else questioning the legitimacy of his presidency ... it will be seen as a sign of bad faith ahead of the discussions about to begin.”

AU head and Ghanaian President John Kufuor was meeting Kibaki (76) in the morning, and then planned to speak to his rival, Raila Odinga (63), who says fraud cost him victory.

The crisis has dented Kenya’s reputation for stability in a turbulent corner of Africa, hurt key economic sectors like tourism and tea, and tainted Kibaki’s previous reputation as a gentlemanly leader with a penchant for PG Wodehouse novels.

International pressure for a negotiated solution is growing.

Washington says the presidential vote count was “obviously flawed” while London calls it “plagued by irregularity”.

Possible solutions being touted are a power-sharing arrangement or a fresh election.

Within minutes of the Cabinet announcement by Kibaki, who has given TV addresses but not appeared in public since his win, hundreds of rioters built burning barricades and stoned cars in Kisumu, a western stronghold of the opposition.

One man was shot dead and trouble rumbled through the night.

In Nairobi, opposition supporters also came out in the slums, some of them brandishing machetes. “They are going wild.
They are very angry about the new Cabinet,” said Onyango Apudo, a boxer living in the sprawling Mathare shanty-town.

Kibaki was making his first public foray on Wednesday since his disputed re-election, visiting the town of Eldoret in one of the areas worst hit by ethnic killings.

‘Slap in face’

Officials say 486 people have died in election-related violence in Kenya but aid workers and the opposition say the toll could be hundreds higher from clashes between police and protesters, ethnic fighting, and looting.

Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has rejected an offer of bilateral talks from Kibaki, saying they would be a “sideshow” if not chaired by international mediators. It said Kibaki’s ministerial appointments were a “slap in the face”.

Kenyan government officials said Kufuor would stay in Nairobi for little more than 24 hours after arriving on Tuesday.

Stoking opposition anger, Kibaki retained several controversial figures in his new Cabinet, including former hardline Internal Security Minister John Michuki who moved to the roads ministry.

Kibaki said his partial Cabinet would ensure the government was able to run the country as required by the Constitution.

“When my government is fully constituted as a result of dialogue, it will be broad-based and represent the will of the people of Kenya,” he said in a statement.

Much of the turmoil has pitted Odinga’s ethnic Luos and other groups against Kibaki’s Kikuyus and the security forces.

But Kibaki’s naming of Kalonzo Musyoka as vice-president triggered attacks on his Kamba group, who some ODM supporters accused of selling out to the opposition.

“The Luos are now targeting Kambas, saying they should go and join the Kikuyus,” one Kibera slum resident told Reuters.

Musyoka came a distant third in the presidential election.

Kibaki and Odinga have still not met face-to-face since trouble started when Kibaki was sworn in on December 30.

Odinga says Kibaki must step down and agree to a new election. Kibaki is reluctant to accept international mediation and his officials say the crisis, one of the worst since independence from Britain in 1963, is an internal affair. - Reuters

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