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Fresh Violence Erupts in Kenya as Annan Mediates

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Fresh Violence Erupts in Kenya as Annan Mediates

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Fresh Violence Erupts in Kenya as Annan Mediates

Fresh Violence Erupts in Kenya as Annan Mediates

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In Kenya, a funeral for opposition members killed in the violent political crisis dissolved in fumes of tear gas as police battled stone-throwing youths. The latest violence came as former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan began talks to try to resolve the post-election stalemate that threatens what had been East Africa's most stable nation.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now to Kenya where former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan is trying to mediate an end to the crisis sparked by last month's disputed presidential election. He got off to a good start, persuading the opposition party to call off street protests planned for tomorrow. But as he began talks with Kenya's political rivals, fresh violence erupted.

In Nairobi, police fired tear gas at youth throwing stones. But some gas canisters landed in the middle of an opposition funeral ceremony.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton was there.

(Soundbite of crying)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Women wore strips of red and black cloth to show they were bereaved. And they wailed at Nairobi City mortuary as the caskets of their loved ones and friends were hoisted on to trucks to be driven to the venue of the funeral prayer service. The ceremony was organized by the main opposition party headed by Raila Odinga. He claims he was robbed of victory by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and is challenging the December 27 vote tally.

Kibaki maintains that he won. And the government has accused Odinga and the opposition of inciting violence and ethnic divisions.

(Soundbite of cheers)

QUIST-ARCTON: Waving branches, leaves and banners, opposition supporters held a peaceful but noisy procession along the main road leading to the park. That's where the coffins were laid out with the name of each person written in bold letters. The dead were mainly from one of Nairobi's notorious trouble spots, the sprawling Kibera slum.

(Soundbite of music)

QUIST-ARCTON: The opposition says they were all shot dead by riot police. Opposition leaders joined hundreds of mourners for the memorial service in the park. After prayers and hymns, the leaders spoke, including Raila Odinga.

(Soundbite of political speech)

Mr. RAILA ODINGA (Kenyan Politician; Opposition Leader): I've been warned that brothers and sisters who have died here, we want to say that their lives were not lost instead(ph) in vain; that their blood is going to be the water which is going to - going to water the tree of independence on field with the people of this country.

QUIST-ARCTON: But just as Raila Odinga was about to end his speech…

(Soundbite of shots fired)

QUIST-ARCTON: …police fired teargas canisters from outside the grounds, sending a haze of white smoke into the park, causing pandemonium. (Unintelligible) had earlier confronted the riot police. Politicians and mourners were caught up in the fracas. Such incidents are raising tensions in Kenya, and the opposition leaders, including Odinga, were driven away at speed.

(Soundbite of speeding vehicle)

QUIST-ARCTON: A group of angry young men took out their frustrations on a nearby post office, setting fire to and vandalizing the building and torching two cars.

(Soundbite of opposition supporters shouting in foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: That's the opposition supporters' mantra, no Raila, no peace, and many mean it. It's this explosion of anger and unrest that the former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is trying to calm, but positions are polarized.

The opposition is determined to fight on, while the government is refusing to back down. Annan is the latest international peace worker to try to resolve the political standoff. Post-election violence has killed hundreds of people, leaving a quarter of a million more displaced. The turmoil has shaken Kenya's image as a staple nation in a volatile East African region.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi.

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Former U.N. Chief Tackles Kenya's Crisis

Former U.N. Chief Tackles Kenya's Crisis

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Mary Akinyi Ndar (right), a mother of five from Mathare — one of Nairobi's biggest slums — is among the people displaced by post-election violence in Kenya. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Mary Akinyi Ndar (right), a mother of five from Mathare — one of Nairobi's biggest slums — is among the people displaced by post-election violence in Kenya.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

A woman gets help loading beans into a blanket. Relief workers distributed the provisions to people displaced by post-election violence. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

A woman gets help loading beans into a blanket. Relief workers distributed the provisions to people displaced by post-election violence.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Relief workers distribute aid to those camping out across the street from the Mathare slum. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Relief workers distribute aid to those camping out across the street from the Mathare slum.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

A woman and her baby are among the displaced people gathered outside the Moi air force base. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

A woman and her baby are among the displaced people gathered outside the Moi air force base.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Children displaced by the violence following Kenya's presidential elections. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

Children displaced by the violence following Kenya's presidential elections.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR

After another deadly week of violence in Kenya, international diplomatic efforts continue to try to end the bitter crisis prompted by a disputed presidential vote. The latest in a procession of high-profile would-be peace brokers is former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who arrived in Kenya on Tuesday.

More than 650 people have been killed in the violence, and a quarter of a million have been driven from their homes in different parts of the country — including the capital, Nairobi.

Displaced people are camped outside Moi air force base, across the street from one of Nairobi's biggest slums, Mathare. That shantytown and Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, are considered flashpoints and potential tinderboxes. If there is trouble, it is almost always reflected in these multi-tribal shanties, where the different ethnic groups live cheek by jowl — generally peacefully — until problems like this erupt.

In Mathare, relief workers hand out provisions, including beans and gray blankets to help in the cool Nairobi summer evenings and unseasonal rain. Hundreds of expectant, displaced Kenyans are jostling one another as a man stands on top of a vehicle shouting out a list of names.

Among the displaced people desperate for assistance is Mary Akinyi Ndar, a mother of five from the Mathare slum. She is disappointed — her name is not on the list.

Ndar was forced from her shanty home by men with machetes barking threats. She didn't recognize them, she says. Some people with small children tried to resist, but the attackers brandished their machetes and a few people were cut.

A Tribal Conflict

Ndar is a Luo, the same tribe as Kenya's opposition leader, Raila Odinga. He insists he is the rightful president — that he was robbed of victory in a rigged election.

Odinga is demanding a vote recount or a new election. The tense political standoff between Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, has sparked weeks of ethnic bloodletting. It has allowed grievances over land and privilege that date back decades to resurface.

Now rivals are using machetes, daggers, spears and bows and arrows to settle scores. Dozens of people have been burned alive in tribal violence. Riot police are cracking down on opposition supporters who have defied a ban on anti-government protest rallies, creating a murderous mix.

"The way I see it, this is not really a political problem," says Joyce Oneko, a counselor who heads the aid agency Mama and Dada Africa, which means "Mothers and Sisters Africa." "The politics have just helped to bring things which were already there to the fore. So they've now actually had the opportunity to vent out the anger that they've been having."

Oneko is organizing the handout of relief stocks near the slum. She says the politicians are responsible for Kenya's current woes because of the way they campaigned in the run-up to the elections.

"I am blaming the politicians because when we were doing the campaign, it was very clear that the politicians were working on their own tribesmen," she says. "The Luos were campaigning for the Luos, the Kikuyus were campaigning for the Kikuyus. ... So I am blaming this on the politicians, because if the politicians talk to their various followers and make them see that as Kenyans, we are all Kenyans — it is not about tribe — they will follow, because in this country people do follow their leaders."

Diplomatic Efforts Continue

There is still a huge gulf between Kibaki and Odinga — and the two men aren't talking. Since violence erupted in Kenya after the disputed election results were declared late last month, there has been a steady stream of international figures trying to calm the waters, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu and the African Union chairman, President John Kufuor of Ghana.

The opposition has been demanding that Annan come to help. The government says he is welcome but has resisted any formal outside mediation, saying Kenya is not at war, nor in crisis.

But what Ndar, the displaced Mathare slum dweller, says she wants most is peace. No one doubts Annan has a tough mission ahead of him.

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