- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s president and his chief rival made key concessions yesterday to end their election dispute, calling off protests and agreeing to talks under pressure from the United States as the death toll from a week of violence neared 500.

The top American envoy to Africa said the vote count at the heart of the dispute was tampered with and both sides could have been involved.

The Dec. 27 election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for another five-year term, with his rabble-rousing opponent, Raila Odinga, coming in a close second. But even Kenyan Electoral Commission Chairman Samuel M. Kivuitu, who declared Mr. Kibaki the winner, subsequently said he is not sure Mr. Kibaki won.

“Yes, there was rigging,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer told the Associated Press in Nairobi, where she has met with Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga for the past three days.

“I mean, there were problems with the vote-counting process,” she added. “Both the parties could have rigged.”

She said she did not want to blame either Mr. Kibaki or Mr. Odinga.

Kenya is crucial to the U.S. war on terrorism. It has turned over dozens of suspected terrorists to the United States and Ethiopia, allows American forces to operate from Kenyan bases and conducts joint exercises with U.S. troops in the region.

The United States also is a major donor to Kenya, long seen as a stable democracy in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan. Aid amounts to roughly $1 billion a year, said embassy spokesman T.J. Dowling.

Ms. Frazer said the violence “hasn’t shaken our confidence in Kenya as a regional hub.”

U.S. intervention appears to be having an effect on the crisis, with both sides softening their tones since Ms. Frazer’s arrival over the weekend.

Mr. Kibaki yesterday invited Mr. Odinga to a meeting at his official residence Friday to discuss how to end the turmoil, the president’s news service said. Just hours earlier, Mr. Odinga called off nationwide rallies in the face of fears they would spark new bloodshed.

Mr. Odinga’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said Mr. Odinga will meet with Mr. Kibaki as long as it is part of a mediation process with African Union chairman John Kufuor, the president of Ghana. Mr. Kufuor’s trip to Kenya has been delayed repeatedly as the government rejected outside mediation. But now he is expected to begin talks in Nairobi as early as tomorrow.

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