- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons yesterday to hold back masses heading for a banned rally to protest Kenya”s disputed election, and the president said he is willing to talk to the opposition once calm has been restored.

The attorney general called for an independent body to verify the vote tally.

“Because of the perception that the presidential results were rigged, it is necessary … that a proper tally of the valid certificates returned and confirmed should be undertaken immediately” by an independent body, Attorney General Amos Wako said in a statement read on television. Mr. Wako was appointed to the lifetime post by former President Daniel arap Moi but has been seen as close to Mr. Kibaki.

Kenya’s Electoral Commission said Mr. Kibaki had won the Dec. 27 vote, but rival candidate Raila Odinga said the vote was rigged. The dispute has triggered ethnic violence across the country that killed 300 people and displaced 100,000.

The State Department said the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, is being dispatched to Kenya to directly urge leaders to curb the violence.

President Bush yesterday urged Kenyans to refrain from further violence and called on Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to work together to resolve the election dispute.

“It’s very important for the people of Kenya to not resort to violence,” Mr. Bush told Reuters news agency.

Asked whether Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga should share power, Mr. Bush said, “I believe that they have an opportunity to come together in some kind of arrangement that will help heal the wounds of a closely divided election.”

As attempts at mediating the crisis gained momentum, Mr. Kibaki said he was willing to hold talks.

“I am ready to have dialogue with concerned parties once the nation is calm and the political temperatures are lowered enough for constructive and productive engagement,” Mr. Kibaki said just hours after police halted the planned march by opposition protesters.

South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu flew to Nairobi and met with Mr. Odinga. Mr. Tutu said afterward that Mr. Odinga was ready for “the possibility of mediation.”

Mr. Tutu said he hoped to meet with Mr. Kibaki as well.

The State Department said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made three telephone calls yesterday to discuss developments in Kenya: one to Mr. Kibaki, one to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and one to the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger.

An official from Mr. Solana’s office said he and Miss Rice agreed that the European Union and the United States should press the parties in Kenya to establish a coalition government and discussed a proposal to send a joint EU-U.S. envoy to mediate.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack disputed that characterization of the conversation, saying that although the officials had agreed on the need for political reconciliation between the Kenyan rivals, neither had specifically endorsed the formation of coalition or a government of national unity.

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