Obama urges calm in Kenya

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Wed Jan 2, 2008 6:03pm EST

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, January 2, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, January 2, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya, on Wednesday called for an end to the tribal violence that has roiled Kenya since its disputed election.

In a statement broadcast over U.S. government-funded Voice of America radio, Obama, who seeks to become America's first black president, said he was "deeply troubled" by the turmoil in the east African country.

"The instability and tragic violence pose an urgent and dangerous threat to the people of Kenya, and to Kenyan democracy," said Obama, who is running for the Democratic nomination for the November U.S. presidential election.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's government on Wednesday accused rival Raila Odinga's backers of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" after an explosion of tribal violence over a disputed election killed more than 300 people.

"Despite irregularities in the vote tabulation, now is not the time to throw that strong democracy away," Obama said, one day before a contest in Iowa launches the state-by-state nominating contests in the 2008 White House race.

"Now is a time for President Kibaki, opposition leader Odinga, and all of Kenya's leaders to call for calm, to come together, and to start a political process to address peacefully the controversies that divide them," Obama said.

"Now is the time for this terrible violence to end.

Obama, who visited Kenya including his ancestral village in the country's remote West in 2006, was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a white American mother. His father, who is now dead, grew up herding goats before studying in America then returning to Kenya to become a noted economist.

A first-term senator from Illinois who has been criticized for not having much international experience, Obama also spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about Kenya's turmoil, his communications director Robert Gibbs said.

"The way forward is not through violence -- it is through democracy, and the rule of law," Obama said. "To all of Kenya's people, I ask you to renew Kenya's democratic tradition, and to seek your dreams in peace."

Obama's statement will be translated and included in the VOA's new Swahili-language program to East Africa on Thursday, the broadcaster said.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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