2 January 2008

Kenya: Peace Calls Amid Continued Bloodletting

Nairobi — Another round of calls for peace was drowned under a new wave of bloodletting that left the country tottering on the brink, with Britain announcing it was ready to broker a deal.

But even as calls for peace rang loud across the political divide, with top Party of National of Unity (PNU) and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) politicians calling for a ceasefire, a new standoff was unfolding.

A newly sworn-in President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga - who is strongly convinced he was robbed of the presidency and who says his party has evidence of massive rigging - retreated to the trenches, with Raila reeling out a raft of conditions to be met before any meaningful engagement begins.

On its part, the United States has since withdrawn its congratulations for President Kibaki, with the State Department raising, what it described as "serious concerns" over the conduct of the polls.

The European Union (EU), on the other hand, has declined to congratulate the newly re-elected Kibaki, with its own election observer team and five top Kenyan election officials calling for an independent inquiry into the polls.

In an early sign of what could be a long-drawn battle, the Government continued with its strong-arm tactics, banning an Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) rally planned for Uhuru Park, Nairobi, tomorrow and further tightening its grip on interpersonal communication, only a day after it banned live broadcasts.

On Tuesday, in his New Year message, British Prime minister, Mr Gordon Brown, telephoned Raila with an offer to intervene and end the chaos that has so far claimed over 300 lives.

Saying he accepted Britain's initiative, Raila, however gave his own terms.

"The first condition is that President Kibaki must first step aside and publicly own up to the fact that he was not elected President," Raila demanded.

He added: "The second condition is that the negotiation must be done by mediators because I'm not willing to talk to him directly".

Raila said Brown was "deeply disturbed" by the post-election chaos and bloodletting and that the PM "expressed his deep disappointment".

This came on a day the post-election violence that has rocked parts of the country took serious proportions when at least 30 children and 10 adults who had sought refuge in a church were burnt to death in acts of violence linked to protests against the President's re-election.

Deaths, destruction and fear reigned in many parts of the country as more than 100 people were killed on Tuesday alone, including a District Officer (DO), a National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) officer, a veteran Rift Valley politician.

On Tuesday, the Internal Security ministry warned mobile phone subscribers that they risked prosecution if they sent or forwarded short text messages (SMS) that it said "may cause public unrest", in what could be a move to shut down 21st century's most effective communication mode.

"The Ministry of Internal Security urges you to please desist from sending or forwarding any SMS that may cause public unrest. This may lead to your prosecution," a warning sent by Safaricom, read.

Safaricom ordered

Last night, Mr Peter Arina, the Safaricom deputy managing director, confirmed that the mobile giant had received the order, that it circulated to its subscribers, from the Internal Security ministry.

This came only hours after President Kibaki addressed the nation on State TV, outlining his expectations for a second and last term.

In his New Year message, Kibaki said: "This year, we are marking the New Year at a time when the country has just concluded a closely contested free and fair general election.

"With the elections behind us, it is now time for healing and reconciliation among all Kenyans. I ask all of us, and particularly all leaders, to embrace a renewed spirit of national unity, respect for the democratic choice and maintain peace, law and order".

Added the Head of State: "Let us choose to live together in a true democratic spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, for that is the only way of ensuring that we forge ahead and open a new chapter of development and improvement of our social and economic circumstances".

The President then went on to state that his Government would also deal decisively with those who breach the peace by intensifying security across the country.

But positions appeared to harden, with ODM vowing it would go on with tomorrow's rally at Uhuru Park despite a Government ban.

"The meeting will go on as planned. We are going to lead a million Kenyans to the venue. The work of police is to provide security," Raila, who spoke even as the venue remained ringed by armed General Service Unit (GSU) personnel keeping round the clock vigil, declared.

Announcing the ban, Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua on Tuesday said the police would clamp down on dissent.

"Before the General Election, the Police Commissioner announced the Government would not allow any public rallies to be held by anybody after the elections. This decision is still in force and will be enforced until the current security situation normalises," Mutua said in a statement read to the Press at the KICC, Nairobi.

Police spokesman, Mr David Kiraithe, who was also present, said the police would not allow lawlessness in any part of the country.

He warned: "Law and order is supreme and violence does not create any environment for anyone to lead".

But Raila, who addressed an international news conference at Pentagon House accompanied by running mate Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Pentagon members Mr William Ruto, Mr Joseph Nyagah and Mrs Charity Ngilu, together with ODM chairman, Mr Henry Kosgey and MPs-elect Mr Omingo Magara and Mr Fred Gumo, said the party had rejected the police ban and would proceed to the venue.

"The OCPD has told us that due to insecurity, the meeting will not go on. But the law says that police are to be notified so that they can provide security," said Raila.

The Orange party also went on to state that it would today release what it described as "a comprehensive report detailing how President Kibaki was rigged back into the office by the ECK".

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