NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s political rivals accused each other on Thursday of sabotaging international mediation efforts to end weeks of unrest, despite a symbolic handshake after talks brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
Hours after opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands with President Mwai Kibaki following their first direct talks since a disputed December 27 election, Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) launched a scathing attack on the Kenyan leader.
ODM Secretary-General Anyang’ Nyong‘o said Kibaki’s statement that he was the country’s “duly elected” president undermined all mediation efforts to end a crisis in which nearly 700 people have been killed.
“It is now absolutely clear to the country that Mr Kibaki has no intention whatsoever of embarking on this journey with the people of Kenya,” Nyong‘o told a news conference.
“His demeaning and unacceptable behavior was clearly meant to undermine the mediation effort and to prolong the suffering of the people of Kenya.”
Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) gave a sharp riposte.
“It’s a very disappointing statement. It has taken Kenya to the deepest abyss ever,” PNU spokesman Ngari Gituku said.
“It makes total nonsense of their call for peace. It is juvenile for them to renege on something they just committed themselves to in front of the whole world ... This republic is a sovereign nation with a leader,” he told Reuters.
Annan said earlier that “fair steps” towards a peaceful solution had been made during closed-door discussions. Hundreds of onlookers cheered as Kibaki and Odinga shook hands and smiled at each other before vowing to resolve the crisis.
But Kibaki’s phrase “As I pointed out after being sworn in as your duly elected president of Kenya...” angered ODM leaders.
One Odinga aide said Kibaki’s words had differed from the statement he had told the opposition he intended to make.
The criticism dampened hopes raised by the meeting, which had long been demanded by Western powers and millions of anxious Kenyans horrified by their country’s slide into chaos.
The opposition said it wanted “mediation principles” agreed in writing before it would consider further talks with Kibaki.
The ODM had demanded an outside mediator to solve a crisis that has split Kenya down tribal and political lines, after Kibaki narrowly won the closest election in the country’s history following a vote rife with rigging.
Hundreds have died and 250,000 been forced to flee their homes in a combination of politically incited ethnic killings and police action to quell protests that frequently degenerated into rioting and looting.
In Odinga’s western stronghold of Kisumu on Thursday, some youths burned tires, saying they were angry their leader had been caught in police teargas on Wednesday at a memorial service for some of the dead. Local media said eight people were killed in violence in the Rift Valley towns of Molo and Nakuru.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had evidence from Rift Valley that ODM politicians and local leaders “actively fomented some post-election violence”.
“Opposition leaders are right to challenge Kenya’s rigged presidential poll, but they can’t use it as an excuse for targeting ethnic groups,” HRW’s Georgette Gagnon said.
The Rift has seen some of the worst turmoil, including the burning to death in a church of 30 members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group by members of the Kalenjin tribe.
The bloodshed has shattered Kenya’s image as a stable, democratic country with the region’s strongest economy. Its core tourism industry has seen mass cancellations and the shilling currency hit an 18-month low on Wednesday before recovering.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Bryson Hull, Duncan Miriri and Joseph Sudah)
Writing by Daniel Wallis and Nick Tattersall, editing by Philippa Fletcher