Kenyan president 'ready to form unity government'

The moves is meant to help resolve disputed elections that caused deadly riots in the nation.

kenya riots 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
kenya riots 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Kenya's president is ready to form "a government of national unity" to help resolve disputed elections that caused deadly riots, a government statement said Saturday without explaining what such a power-sharing arrangement might involve. President Mwai Kibaki made the statement to Jendayi Frazer, the leading US diplomatic for Africa, according to the director of the presidential news service, Isaiya Kabira. Kabira said he could not say whether that was a formal offer to opposition leader Raila Odinga, who accuses Kibaki of stealing the December 27 elections that international observers say has a deeply flawed vote count. Britain, the former colonial power in Kenya, issued an appeal Friday to leaders in the East African country to consider sharing power. Frazer, who met with Odinga earlier Saturday, would be meeting with the opposition leader again, Kabira said, implying she might be carrying a message from Kibaki. Odinga told a news conference he had not received any formal offer from the government, but added, "Let them put that on the table when we are negotiating." He declined to say what his response would be, but his spokesman, Salim Lone, told The Associated Press that Odinga would rather not share power. "Raila has said a number of times that he is not happy with (the idea of) a government of national unity, he has said he would rather remain in the opposition," Lone said. In talks with Frazer, Odinga repeated his demand for an election rerun, he said. On Friday, Odinga called for a transitional government to organize a new presidential election, but Kibaki said a rerun could be ordered only by the High Court. In parliamentary balloting, Odinga's party won 95 of 122 legislative seats and half of Kibaki's Cabinet lost their seats, meaning it would be almost impossible for Kibaki to govern without opposition cooperation. There was no immediate statement from Frazer on her 90-minute meeting with Kibaki or her talks with Odinga. Kabira read a government statement that quoted Frazer as saying that "by extending an olive branch to the opposition, President Kibaki had shown his commitment to ending the political impasse." "She expressed optimism that all concerned parties will work together toward restoring normalcy in Kenya." The statement said Kibaki reiterated his readiness to work with all involved parties. "The president said he was ready to form a government of national Unity that would not only unite Kenyans but would also help in the healing and reconciliation process," the statement said. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Frazer's mission is designed to complement other international efforts to encourage a peaceful solution. South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has also held talks with Kibaki and Odinga. Some 300 people have been killed and 100,000 made homeless in violent protests and clashes since the vote. The turbulence has taken an ugly ethnic twist, with other tribes pitted against the president's Kikuyu people, and brought chaos to a country once considered an island of stability in violence-plagued East Africa. On Saturday, an Associated Press photographer watched residents of Mathare slum battling with machetes. Police who tried to intervene were surrounded by an angry crowd and had to flee with the wounded. One man had half his leg hacked away and two others appeared seriously injured. Trouble has spread from Nairobi, the capital, to the western highlands and to the coast. In the coastal tourist city of Mombasa on Saturday, police fired tear gas in a bid to disperse protesters for a second day running. "Kibaki must go!" the scores of demonstrators shouted. Thousands in the capital's slums, meanwhile, have lined up for food after days of riots left them cut off. The UN World Food Program said it was scrambling to bring food to 100,000 displaced people in the Rift Valley. The agency said trucks were slowed because of insecurity. Food shortages in Mombasa caused prices to rise. The cost of a loaf of bread more than doubled to 70 shillings (about US$1), said Michael Musembi, who sells wood carvings. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that the elections "were totally rigged," but did not provide evidence. Attorney General Amos Wako has called for an independent investigation of the vote counting. The call from Wako, who is considered close to Kibaki, was a surprise and could reflect the seriousness of the rigging allegations. But Odinga's spokesman, Lone, rejected the suggestion, saying his party had "no faith in any government institution." Kenyan businesses have lost millions of dollars and the country's vitally important tourism industry suffered as British and other tour operators canceled planned vacations.