Kenyan Opposition Leader Cancels Protests

Kibera residents repair a destroyed house, Monday, Jan. 7, 2008 in Nairobi. Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga called off protest rallies planned for Tuesday after the government said they could re-ignite violence following disputed presidential elections that has left some 486 people dead.
AP Photo/Khalil Senosi
Kenya's opposition leader on Monday canceled planned nationwide protest rallies amid fears they could ignite new bloodletting after political and ethnic violence that has already killed some 500 people.

Reports continued coming in of killings in the countryside since a dispute over presidential elections sparked violence. An official in neighboring Uganda saying Monday that 30 people trying to flee western Kenya were thrown into the border river by attackers, and were presumed drowned.

Ugandan border official Himbaza Hashaka said two Ugandan drivers of the truck in which the group was traveling reported that they were stopped Saturday at a roadblock mounted by vigilantes who identified those trying to flee as belonging to President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and threw them into the deep, swift-flowing Kipkaren River. He said the drivers said none survived.

A particularly troubling aspect of the political violence has been its degeneration in some areas into rioting pitting other tribes against Kibaki's Kikuyu, long dominant in politics and the economy in Kenya.

As CBS News reporter Katherine Arms reports from Nairobi, all across Kenya people are going to church and praying for a peaceful end to the crisis that swept through the country. Most want to get back to work and get on with their lives.

A statement earlier Monday from the Ministry of Special Programs put the death toll at 486 with some 255,000 people displaced from their homes. The toll, which did not include the drownings at the border, was compiled by a special committee of humanitarian services set up by the government which extensively toured areas most affected by riots and protests.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga pleaded for peace Monday, and said he wanted to give mediation a chance. He called off protests after meeting with U.S. envoy Jendayi Frazer and after Kibaki's government, accused by Odinga of stealing the Dec. 27 election, said the proposed Tuesday demonstrations were illegal and could provoke violence.

Odinga's decision gave relief to an exhausted population, tired of images portraying Kenya as a battleground and tired of the sad bad news that continues to pour in from rural areas where clashes are sporadically still taking place, Arms reports.

Odinga noted Ghana's President John Kufuor, the current chairman of the African Union, was expected to arrive by Tuesday on a mediation mission. Kufuor's trip had been repeatedly delayed as the government rejected outside mediation.

"We want the mediation to take place in a peaceful environment, that is why the rallies have been canceled," Odinga said.

Also Monday, Kibaki invited Odinga to the State House for a meeting Friday to discuss how to end the political and ethnic turmoil, according to a statement from the president's press service.

Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, told The Associated Press later Monday the vote count had been rigged, but said she did not want to blame Kibaki or Odinga.

"Yes there was rigging," she said in an interview. "I mean there were problems with the vote counting process ... both the parties could have rigged."

Kenya's electoral commission chairman Samuel Kivuiti has himself said he is not sure Kibaki won, though the chairman officially declared Kibaki the winner.

Government and the opposition traded charges Monday about who should be blamed for the turmoil.

Odinga told Sky News television "Mr. Mwai Kibaki must bear responsibility ... for the deaths we are seeing in our country today," repeating his allegations Kibaki stole the vote.

In a statement welcoming Odinga's cancellation of the rallies, government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the government was investigating "premeditated murder" of people he said were warned they would pay if they voted for Kibaki. He did not say who could be charged.

The sharp rhetoric could make compromise difficult, but U.S. envoy Frazer had won an offer from Kibaki to form a unity government over the weekend. Odinga then said he was willing to drop demands that Kibaki resign and was willing to discuss sharing power, but only through a mediator empowered to negotiate an agreement that the international community would guarantee.

The opposition also has proposed an interim government be set up to hold new presidential elections. But Kibaki has said only a court could order fresh elections - an unlikely event since he has packed the judiciary with his allies.

It would be nearly impossible for Kibaki to govern without opposition support. In parliamentary elections held the same day as the presidential vote, Odinga's party won 95 of 210 legislative seats, and half of Kibaki's Cabinet lost their seats. It was a sign of people's anger over pervasive corruption and nepotism that favored Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, Kenya's former colonizer, had appealed Sunday for Kibaki and Odinga to hold talks to end their deadlock. The United States, Britain and the European Union all look to Kenya as an ally in the fight against terrorism, and the explosion of violence has damaged its image as a stable democracy and attraction for investors and tourists in a region rent by wars, uprisings and civil unrest.

Tens of thousands of people are hungry, cut off from supplies as the crisis has closed down shops and transport across Kenya. What food is available has tripled in price.

In the coastal tourist city of Mombasa on Monday, police fired tear gas to scatter a few dozen opposition protesters who gathered in the center of the tourist city.

Nearly 1,000 members of Odinga's Luo tribe were chased from their homes Sunday in one small town, Limuru, 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) west of Nairobi, the capital. Some with furniture and bundles of clothing, others with nothing, huddled around a police station compound.

George Otieno, a 30-year-old who works in a car body shop, said about 100 men armed with machetes, hammers and sticks attacked his home and smashed his head with a hammer.

"They said, 'You have to go back to your place,"' meaning the Luo's native lands in western Kenya, said Otieno, whose head was bandaged and shirt marked with dried blood.

More than 500 Kikuyu refugees were at a nearby Red Cross compound, forced from their homes in western Kenya. Thousands of Kikuyus fled their homes in the west over the weekend in an exodus that continued Monday. They were escorted by soldiers down roads strewn with corpses and burned out vehicles.