January 11, 2008 / 6:30 AM / 12 years ago

Kenya opposition calls wave of protests

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s opposition on Friday called three days of nationwide protests next week after mediation failed and the country’s post-election crisis worsened.

A scuffle breaks out for food aid being distributed by the Kenyan Red Cross at Korogocho slum in Nairobi, January 11, 2008. REUTERS/Georgina Cranson

Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) also called for international sanctions against President Mwai Kibaki, who was re-elected in a disputed December 27 poll, saying world leaders would be irresponsible to trust him with “a single cent”.

“We are asking our countrymen and women with whom we feel such great sadness and solidarity to join us in demonstrations countrywide on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week,” ODM secretary general Anyang’ Nyong’o told reporters.

Odinga’s supporters say Kibaki stole the vote, and Nyong’o said Kenyans had every right to protest peacefully.

ODM said demonstrations would be held in nearly 30 places around Kenya, and that it had asked police to provide security for a mass rally on Wednesday in central Nairobi.

Previous protests have triggered riots and vicious clashes between Odinga’s supporters and the security forces, adding to a death toll of around 500 since the ballot.

Police have banned all political rallies. As officers in riot gear patrolled parts of the capital on Friday, a government spokesman urged Kenyans to ignore ODM’s appeal.

“The leaders calling on you to take to the streets to burn shops and destroy property will not be with you or your family when you have no job anymore,” spokesman Alfred Mutua said.

The unrest has tarnished Kenya’s democratic credentials, damaged east Africa’s biggest and previously booming economy, hit supplies to neighbors and rattled Western donors.

This week’s failure by African Union head and Ghanaian President John Kufuor to broker a deal dismayed Kenyans enduring one of the worst chapters in their post-independence history.

Former U.N. head Kofi Annan, another Ghanaian, will now lead a group of eminent Africans in a new push to resolve the crisis.

Annan urged both sides on Friday to work with his panel, which includes Graca Machel, wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and former Tanzanian leader Ben Mkapa.

“We are not going to impose solutions but work together with (Kibaki and Odinga) to arrive at viable and long-lasting solutions to the problem,” he told reporters in Accra.

Annan said he hoped to move quickly, but gave no timeframe. ODM said he was due in Nairobi on Tuesday, the same day Kenya’s parliament is due to resume.

“MORTAL COMBAT”

Analysts say Odinga has lost momentum in recent days as Kibaki entrenches himself by appointing the core of a new cabinet, carrying out state functions and recalling parliament.

They say protests look like the only way for the opposition to maintain pressure on Kibaki and resist a de facto solution.

Aides to the 76-year-old president say the opposition’s refusal to meet Kibaki shows it is not interested in dialogue. ODM will only attend internationally mediated talks.

Kibaki and Odinga, a 63-year-old former political prisoner and wealthy businessman, have not met since the vote. They once had close ties but now deeply distrust each other.

Around Kenya, there is widespread frustration that the poor have largely paid the price of the unrest while the political elite have stayed in comfortable and well-guarded compounds.

“Our leaders are stuck in mortal combat, unable to rise above their ambitions and put the interests of the country and the people first,” wrote one local newspaper columnist.

More than 250,000 Kenyans have been made homeless by ethnic clashes since Kibaki was sworn in on December 30.

On Friday, the United Nations estimated that 500,000 people would need humanitarian aid including vital food rations.

The West, including the United States and Kenya’s former colonial ruler Britain, has expressed displeasure at irregularities in the presidential vote count, and is pressing for some sort of power-sharing agreement.

Slideshow (16 Images)

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington hoped any demonstrations were peaceful. Its top diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, was leaving Kenya late on Friday.

“She thinks she has accomplished what she can accomplish,” the spokesman said.

Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Kwasi Kpodo in Accra Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Sue Pleming in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis, Editing by Barry Moody

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