Kenyan President, Rival Hold Talks on Election

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In Kenya, the sitting president and the runner-up held their first talks since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election. Both men, along with mediator Kofi Annan, emerged from the meeting shaking hands and promising to work toward peace. But within hours, the opposition accused President Mwai Kibaki of being insincere.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Kenya, today, the sitting president and his main rival held their first talks since the disputed December 27th presidential election. Both men, along with mediator Kofi Annan, emerged from the meeting, shaking hands and promising to work toward peace; a hopeful sign after nearly a month of violence. But within hours of the meeting, both sides were again crying foul.

From the capital Nairobi, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: President Mwai Kibaki and his political rival Raila Odinga were all smiles when they shook hands after an hour-long meeting with the former U.N. secretary general turned peace broker. Kofi Annan succeeded where other international mediators had failed. He got the two to sit down and talk.

Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Former U.N. Secretary General): The two leaders are here to underline their engagement, to dialogue. Time is of the essence. And I want to join my brothers in appealing for calm and an immediate end to the violence.

QUIST-ARCTON: Annan said this process could take weeks or even months. Now, while politics and a disputed presidential vote was a trigger for weeks of deadly violence and 650 deaths in Kenya, there has also been ethnic bloodletting between different tribes.

Mr. RAILA ODINGA (Kenyan Politician; Opposition Leader): Today, we are taking the first vital steps in resolving the lesser disputes and conflicts.

QUIST-ARCTON: Odinga insists Kibaki robbed him of the presidency. But now, he's talking peace.

Mr. ODINGA: I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis.

QUIST-ARCTON: The Kibaki-Odinga meeting was a significant development in Kenya after a tense political standoff. But the choice of words used by President Kibaki angered the opposition. The Kenyan leader appeared to be saying his job as head of state was not negotiable.

President MWAI KIBAKI (Kenya): After being sworn in as your duly elected president of Kenya, I will personally lead our country in promoting unity, tolerance, peace and harmony among Kenyans.

QUIST-ARCTON: Raila Odinga's opposition party pointed to the phrase duly elected president as evidence of Kibaki undermining Kofi Annan's mediation efforts. Almost immediately after the handshakes and smiles, the feel-good atmosphere soured into recrimination, which each side accusing the other of insincerity and trying to sabotage the negotiations.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi.

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Kenyan Opposition Leader Calls for New Election

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Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga. i

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (left) shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga at a news conference Thursday following their first meeting since the disputed election, mediated by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Uriel Sinai/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (left) shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga at a news conference Thursday following their first meeting since the disputed election, mediated by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, who challenged President Mwai Kibaki in a contested election last month, says the only way to solve the dispute is for Kibaki to step down or for a new presidential election to be held.

Odinga spoke Thursday with Melissa Block shortly after leaving a meeting with Kibaki that was mediated by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan — the first talks between the two rivals since the Dec. 27 election. Hundreds of people have been killed in violence triggered by the disputed results.

"Presidential elections within three months' time will settle this issue once and for all," Odinga says.

Kibaki has claimed victory, however, and appeared to say Thursday that his office was non-negotiable.

When asked what could prompt Kibaki to agree to either option, Odinga said, "His country's aflame, and there'll be no peace in Kenya until this matter is settled satisfactorily."

Responding to the idea that his followers could interpret his words as license for violence, Odinga said that he had "called for peace and that the people should handle themselves peacefully, but, as you know, there can really be no true peace without justice."

The group Human Rights Watch has accused Odinga's party, the Orange Democratic Movement, of orchestrating attacks on members of Kibaki's ethnic group, the Kikuyu.

"No, nothing could be further from the truth," Odinga said. He said the violence "is most unfortunate and we have condemned it in the strongest tone possible. But I want to say that there has been no premeditation. What you have seen countrywide has been spontaneous reaction of the people to the rigging of elections, and this is what will need to be addressed."

Human rights groups have said opposition leaders arranged for transportation and supplied weapons to bands of youths to attack other tribes.

"Where is the evidence?" Odinga asked. "This is the propaganda put out by the government, talking about genocide. The people have just reacted angrily; it was not ... premeditated or preplanned at all."

An editorial in Kenya's leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, has accused Kibaki and Odinga of engaging in nothing more than a power struggle. But Odinga says it is more than that.

"Every Kenyan knows that I won the elections. I mean, there's no doubt in the mind of the people here," he said. "Now, what you want to ask is what does this portend for democracy in Africa? You know, democracy has a price; dictatorships, they don't go out easily. And unless it is sorted out to the satisfaction of the people of Kenya, I am sure that it will spell doom to democracy in our country."

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