Six Killed as Kenya Gears for Annan Mediation

Six people were killed in tribal clashes in Kenya's Rift Valley, police said Tuesday, as the country awaited the arrival of former UN chief Kofi Annan as a mediator in the deadly political stand-off.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga gives a press conference in Nairobi, where he condemned the use of deadly force by Kenyan police, on January 17

The latest deaths brought to at least 63 the number of people killed since Wednesday when opposition chief Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party called for nationwide protests over the re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

The six, including a father and his two sons, were killed late Monday in the volatile Molo district, where rival tribes have been clashing in recent weeks, a police commander told AFP.

"There is a big problem in Molo," he said.

Meanwhile, the ODM has called for demonstrations on Thursday which police have vowed to block, raising fears of fresh street confrontations.

"The police are doing all they can to ensure that the rule of law is respected and is inviting all citizens to assist them," police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told AFP.

"We also appreciate the support the police is receiving from the people of Kenya and the government in trying to restore law and order across the country," he said.

Political protests have devolved into tribal clashes, taking place mainly in western Kenyan and Nairobi's crowded slums -- ethnic tinderboxes where most of Kenya's 42-plus tribes co-exist -- and in rural areas already beset by feuds over land and resources.

Most of the victims are members of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, which has dominated the country's economic life for years and has been the target of revenge attacks since Kibaki was accused of rigging the December 27 elections. Annan along with Graca Machel, the wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, are due to arrive in Kenya on Tuesday to push for resolution between the feuding sides, and defuse the crisis that has threatened the stability of east Africa's most stable economy.

They will join former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, who alongside two other former African heads of state, has failed to revive a moribund international mediation effort.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who chairs a government panel struggling to launch dialogue, hit out at the opposition for its hardline stance, calling on them to refrain from disrespecting the courts.

"Let us not disown the courts. It is crucial that we uphold the independence of the judiciary and follow the due process: It is our responsibility as a regional bloc to respect the rule of law," said Muskoya.

Odinga has refused to take the electoral dispute to court, insisting the judiciary is loyal to Kibaki, and has vowed never to sit down with Musyoka, whom he accuses of being a traitor like "Judas Escariot".

Musyoka fell out with Odinga after a power struggle shortly before last month's elections, and sought the presidency on his own but finished third.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni -- who was one of the first heads of state to congratulate Kibaki on his re-election -- was also expected in Nairobi on Tuesday to support dialogue and discuss regional stability.

The government has rejected the term "mediation", insisting there is no crisis in the country, but has welcomed African leaders to facilitate dialogue to end the political stand-off.

The ODM announced last week it would change tactics and launch a boycott of companies owned by Kibaki's allies.

But the government, in a statement published Monday, said the move was meant "to create poverty and destroy the livelihood of the very poor" and accused the opposition of incitement.

"The targeting of companies and directing of supporters to target and destroy specific companies or persons is a serious crime," the statement said.

The violence that erupted when Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential election on December 30 has killed at least 700 people and displaced a quarter of a million.

Source: AFP

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