Sat, Jan 26, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Kibaki, Odinga meet face to face

STARTING CIVILITY The president of Kenya and the opposition leader smiled and shook hands after the meeting mediated by former UN chief Kofi Annan on Thursday

AFP , NAIROBI

Former UN chief Kofi Annan was set to push for further talks yesterday between feuding Kenyan leaders to end a political crisis, one day after organizing their first face-to-face meeting.

Flanked by Annan, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga on Thursday stood together for the first time since the disputed Dec. 27 polls and called for peace and a start to dialogue.

The landmark meeting, mediated by Annan, followed weeks of violence mainly in the capital and the country's western region that has killed close to 800 people and displaced around 260,000 others.

Annan described the feat, after which Kibaki and Odinga smiled and shook hands before live television, as "a very encouraging development."

"I think we began to take the first steps towards a peaceful solution of the problem and you can see the two leaders are here to underline their engagement to dialogue," the former UN secretary general said.

Kibaki has insisted on direct talks with Odinga, who had refused to recognize the president's legitimacy and rejected calls for dialogue without the presence of an international mediator.

Odinga yesterday also ruled out taking a new post as prime minister in President Mwai Kibaki's government as a solution to the post-election dispute crippling the east African nation.

"I never said I was considering taking up a position of prime minister under Kibaki," Odinga said.

Some media and diplomats have suggested doing so could be a way out of the impasse.

But Odinga said the only three acceptable options would be Kibaki's resignation, a vote re-run, or power-sharing leading to constitutional reform then a new election.

Kibaki's statement at the meeting that he was sworn in as a "duly elected president of Kenya" later drew the wrath of Odinga's opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, which claims it was rigged out of presidency.

The ODM has refused to recognize Kibaki's legitimacy and accused him of hijacking the ex-UN chief's mediation efforts.

"It is now absolutely clear to the country that Mister Kibaki had no intention whatsoever of embarking on this journey with the people of Kenya," said ODM secretary general Anyang Nyongo.

"We denounce and categorically reject the unfortunate statement by Mister Kibaki that he is the duly elected president of Kenya.

"True to his fraudulent character, Mr Mwai Kibaki abused the occasion by attempting to legitimize his usurpation of the presidency," Nyongo told reporters.

Odinga was also offended by the comments.

"Those remarks were unfortunate, calling himself duly-elected and sworn-in president. That is the bone of contention. We want negotiations with integrity," he said.

Asked if he would, however, meet Kibaki again, Odinga replied: "Yes, sure. But I would ask him to desist from making those kind of embarrassing remarks, which will definitely undermine the process of mediation."

But government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the dispute "should be discussed in the dialogue."

"It is unfortunate that the ODM comes up with this statement after the whole world watched President Kibaki and Mister Odinga launch efforts for dialogue and reconciliation," he said.

Odinga earlier called for patience, telling reporters: "We have taken the first vital steps in resolving electoral disputes ... I ask everyone to be patient and uphold peace in a spirit of brotherhood."

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