Kenyan Opposition's Anger Escalates

Opposition supporters riot in Kenya after President Mwai Kibaki names new members to his cabinet, ending hopes of negotiations for power-sharing with Raila Odinga. Almost 500 people have died since the election Dec. 27 returned Kibaki to power. He is accused of stealing the election.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There's been more violence in Kenya. Kenyans have hoped this week would bring an end to the clashes that erupted after last month's disputed election. The incumbent president - who has begun a second term in office, despite dubious poll results - was supposed to meet his challenger later this week to talk about power sharing, but that meeting has been canceled.

For the latest, we turn to NPR's Gwendolyn Thompkins in Nairobi.

Welcome, Gwen.

GWENDOLYN THOMPKINS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So what happened to make it that President Mwai Kibaki will not be meeting with his challenger, Raila Odinga?

THOMPKINS: Well, the challenger, Raila Odinga, rejected the invitation. This was around the same time that President Mwai Kibaki went on national television yesterday and named a vice president and about 17 members of his cabinet. He named some of the most important cabinet positions for secretary of defense, the minister for finance, the minister for internal security.

These are the choice positions in a cabinet. And the challenger, Raila Odinga, had expected that his meeting with the president on Friday would begin negotiations toward a power-sharing agreement between Mr. Kibaki and the opposition. So Mr. Odinga, the challenger, is now saying that his meeting with the president on Friday is off because he felt that it would just be gimmickry.

MONTAGNE: So why did, then, Kibaki name his cabinet so fast?

THOMPKINS: You know, President Kibaki has moved very quickly throughout this entire process, to claim and now consolidate power. So within an hour of the announcement of the dubious election results, he took the oath of office. And, now, in advance of this meeting with Odinga, the challenger, he's creating his own government.

So Mr. Kibaki has never really shown much interest in international mediation or in deal-making, and he appears to be showing no quarter to Mr. Odinga and the opposition. But Mr. Kibaki, in making these decisions to claim and consolidate power quickly, is also pushing the country - which had calmed down a bit - on back toward the bitterness and violence we've seen over these past several days. And it also endangers his own tribe, the Kikuyu, who've been among those who've been most heavily targeted in the violence.

MONTAGNE: Well then, ultimately, does this mean power-sharing is off if these talks are off?

THOMPKINS: Well, not necessarily, Renee. I mean, you know, both of these politicians - President Kibaki and Raila Odinga - they've been in the business a long time, and they have each survived and lived to fight another day, so to speak.

So the Odinga camp has said that it has not closed the door yet on international mediation. You know, John Kufuor, the president of Ghana and the chairman of the African Union, is here, and he's here prepared to help mediate talks. Also, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer is expected to return to Kenya to continue the process of getting these men to the bargaining table. So it's too early yet to give up completely on a negotiated settlement. But at this point, many Kenyans have lost the optimism that they have in the beginning of the week.

MONTAGNE: You know, on Monday, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama took a break from campaigning to appeal to opposition leaders there in Kenya by telephone. His father, of course, was Kenyan. What has been the response there to his call?

THOMPKINS: You know, there hasn't really been much of a response to his call at this point. I mean, people in Kenya are keeping an eye on the presidential race in the United States. Irrespective of ethnic group, they do seem to support Mr. Obama's presidential bid. But at this point, people here are more interested in the players who are here.

MONTAGNE: Gwen, thanks.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gwendolyn Thompkins, speaking from Nairobi.

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Kenya's Opposition Rejects Talks with Kibaki

Kenya's opposition leader on Tuesday rejected an invitation to meet with President Mwai Kibaki, saying it would undermine international attempts to end the election-related violence that has left more than 500 people dead.

Kibaki had invited Raila Odinga for talks on Friday, but Odinga termed the overture "public relations gimmickry." Odinga said he will only attend negotiations mediated by African Union Chairman John Kufuor. Kufuor is scheduled to arrive in Nairobi later on Tuesday, and officials said he would remain there for a little more than 24 hours.

Kibaki and Odinga have not met since Kibaki's surprise re-election erupted into ethnic violence last month. Odinga and his Luo tribe have charged that Kibaki, who is from the Kikuyu tribe, stole the election and should step down.

Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir said attacks against the Kikuyu tribe appeared to have been planned and organized. Korir is from Eldoret, where dozens died when a mob torched a church filled with refugees. Eldoret and surrounding areas have seen an exodus of Kikuyus, who are fleeing the violence.

Attacks Appear Organized

"The way the attacks were managed seems to me very organized," Korir said.

U.S. envoy Jendayi Frazer toured the region Tuesday. She has said that the vote count at the heart of the dispute was rigged — but that both sides could have been involved. The Dec. 27 election returned Kibaki to power for another five-year term. Odinga came in a close second.

"Yes, there was rigging," the U.S. envoy, Jendayi Frazer, told The Associated Press in an interview Monday in Nairobi, where she had met with Kibaki and Odinga over the past three days. "I mean there were problems with the vote counting process."

She said she did not want to blame either Kibaki or Odinga.

Earlier Tuesday, Odinga's spokesman said Barack Obama phoned the opposition leader to express concerns about the ethnic violence, intensifying the diplomatic pressure from the United States.

The U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, whose father was Kenyan, called to express "grave concern" over the election outcome, spokesman Salim Lone said. Obama said he also planned to call Kibaki, according to Lone.

From NPR and The Associated Press

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