- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH

Kenya’s violent political standoff took a new turn yesterday when the chairman of the election commission, whose proclamation of President Mwai Kibaki’s victory triggered the violence that has killed at least 300 people, said he doubted the result.

“I do not know whether Kibaki won the election,” Samuel Kivuitu told the Standard, Kenya’s oldest newspaper, ahead of a critical rally by the opposition’s presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, due in Nairobi today.

“If this matter is finally taken to court, the ruling should be made urgently so that if it were decided that Raila is the president, so be it. If it is Kibaki, so be it,” said Mr. Kivuitu, whose comments amount to an extraordinary retreat from his confident announcement Sunday that Mr. Kibaki had won re-election.

The Bush administration has expressed rising concern about the unrest in Kenya, a key African ally, and the crisis even has become an issue in the Democratic presidential race. Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat whose father was born in Kenya, recorded a message appealing for calm broadcast over the Voice of America’s “English to Africa” service.

“Now is the time for the terrible violence to end,” he said, after first discussing the crisis by telephone with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday that Miss Rice had spoken by phone with Mr. Odinga and plans to call Mr. Kibaki to urge restraint.

“She’s going to urge both gentlemen to do everything that they possibly can in the name of political reconciliation in Kenya to bring an end to any political tensions that might give rise to violence,” Mr. McCormack said.

But Mr. McCormack refused to be drawn into speculation over whether the election results were valid or whether Mr. Kibaki should have been sworn in for a new term, saying that was something that Kenyan legal and electoral officials would have to determine.

Mr. Kivuitu, the election official, said that he was under pressure to release the results before he was ready.

“I had thought of resigning but thought against it because I don’t want people to say I’m a coward,” he added.

Five election commissioners have questioned the credibility of the voting that they supervised.

Both sides in the bitter struggle for power traded accusations yesterday. Mr. Kibaki’s government deliberately summoned memories of Rwanda’s mass killings in 1994 by accusing the opposition Orange Democratic Movement of conducting a “genocide.”

The killing in Kenya’s tribal fighting does not begin to compare with the 800,000 who died in the Rwandan atrocity. There is no evidence that any side intends to eradicate a given ethnic group — the legal definition of genocide.

But Kivutha Kibwana, the lands minister, said, “It is becoming clear that these well-organized acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing were well-planned, financed and rehearsed by Orange Democratic Movement leaders prior to the election.”

Salim Lone, Mr. Odinga’s spokesman, adamantly denied the charge.

“There’s genuine bloodshed, angry people killing each other, but the vast majority of people are being killed by the police,” he said.

Mr. Odinga’s planned rally in Nairobi today could trigger more violence. He has pledged to install himself as the “people’s president” by summoning a “million-man march.” The authorities have banned the proposed gathering, which already has been postponed once.

President John Kufuor of Ghana, the chairman of the African Union, is expected to visit Nairobi. Mr. Kibaki has offered to meet with Mr. Odinga and issue a joint appeal for calm, but the opposition leader has refused to meet unless the president resigns.

David R. Sands of The Washington Times contributed to this report in Washington.

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