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Embassy Row

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TRIBAL BONDS

Observing the protocols of a foreign dignitary on a visit to Washington this week, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga insisted he was strictly neutral in the U.S. presidential campaign.

But he did not bother to deny that the Kenyan roots of Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois may be tilting the field back home. Mr. Obama's father was born in Kenya, the senator's grandmother still lives there, and "Barack" is reported to be one of the most popular names now for Kenyan babies.

"People in Kenya don't view him as Kenyan. They know he is an American now," Mr. Odinga told a small group of reporters, including our correspondent David R. Sands. "But even so, there's quite a bit of emotion in Kenya about [Mr. Obama], much like what people in Austria felt when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California."

For many Kenyans, Mr. Obama "is talking the language of change, and they hope this change will translate into something more positive as far as American policy towards Africa is concerned," he said.

The prime minister noted that he and the Democratic candidate share an even closer bond.

Both are from the Luo tribe, Kenya's third largest, and Mr. Obama's father was born in southwestern Nyanza province, Mr. Odinga's ancestral homeland.

Mr. Odinga, speaking to a packed audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, said there was a popular joke back home speculating on which country would be the first to elect a Luo president - Kenya or the United States.

It's a politically sensitive joke, however, after the tribal violence that exploded in Kenya after the hotly disputed Dec. 27 election between incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and Mr. Odinga. The postelection violence, which killed an estimated 1,500 people, at times featured clashes between Mr. Odinga's Luo followers and members of Mr. Kibaki's Kikuyus, Kenya's largest tribe.

Mr. Odinga agreed to take the newly created post of prime minister in a fragile power-sharing government, but Mr. Odinga could not resist inserting a politically touchy joke of his own.

He told the CSIS audience that Kenya already has won the race to elect a Luo president, "only he has not been sworn in."

STONED IN BEIRUT

Hezbollah supporters shouted, "Death to America," and threw stones at the motorcade of the head of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon Wednesday as she visited a local official opposed to the militant group, which is on the State Department's terrorist list.

No one was injured in the confrontation when demonstrators surrounded the home of Abdullah Bitar, a Shi'ite official, who was hosting a lunch for Michele Sison, the U.S. charge d'affaires. Reporters estimated the crowd at between 100 and 200 people at Mr. Bitar's house in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh.

The demonstrators shouted, "Death to America. Death to Israel. We don't want you in south Lebanon," a witness told a reporter for Agence France-Presse. They threw stones at the bulletproof embassy vehicles parked outside Mr. Bitar's house. The witness said some stones hit Ms. Sison's car as she left the luncheon.

Hezbollah, which provoked a war with Israel by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers in 2006, has wide support in southern Lebanon.

The State Department said that more than a dozen men, and not everyone in the crowd, threw the stones.

Ms. Sison managed to get back into her car and continued with her schedule, spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

President Bush has nominated Ms. Sison, who has been in charge of the embassy since Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman left in January, to serve as ambassador, but the Senate has not confirmed her appointment.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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