- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — President Mwai Kibaki told the top U.S. diplomat for Africa that he was willing to share power, and the opposition backed off demands for his resignation yesterday, offering hope for an end to Kenya’s deadly electoral crisis.

As Mr. Kibaki and opposition rival Raila Odinga faced growing pressure to compromise, the violence that has killed more than 300 people across the country appeared to ease in the capital for the first time since the disputed vote that gave the president a second term and awakened dormant ethnic rivalries.

The crisis, following the Dec. 27 election with a deeply flawed vote count, has pitted Mr. Kibaki’s Kikuyu people against Kenya’s other tribes and brought chaos to a country that had been one of East Africa’s most stable democracies.

In the countryside, with the continued threat of ethnic attacks, thousands fled their homes, escorted by soldiers as they streamed down roads strewn with corpses, burned-out vehicles and downed power lines.

Desperate Kenyans urged Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga to compromise.

“Sit down, find a way out,” said Christopher Kingua, as he fled his home near Eldoret in the western highlands, where bodies were spilling out of packed morgues. “Our homes, our people, our property has been destroyed.”

After meeting with Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Mr. Kibaki said he was “ready to form a government of national unity that would not only unite Kenyans, but would also help in the healing and reconciliation process,” according to the director of the presidential news service, Isaiya Kabira.

Mr. Odinga, whose early lead over Mr. Kibaki evaporated as the tallies rolled in last week, met separately with Miss Frazer and later said he had not received any formal offer and demanded that an international mediator help settle the dispute.

“Let them put that on the table when we are negotiating,” Mr. Odinga said of Mr. Kibaki’s proposal.

He also repeated his demand for a new election.

But after a second meeting with Miss Frazer, Mr. Odinga unexpectedly withdrew his call for Mr. Kibaki to step down.

“If Mr. Kibaki accepts an international mediator, we will not demand that he either resign or acknowledge he did not win the election,” Mr. Odinga’s spokesman, Salim Lone, said.

There was no immediate statement from Miss Frazer on her 90-minute talk with Mr. Kibaki or her two meetings with Mr. Odinga.

It would be nearly impossible for Mr. Kibaki to govern without opposition support. In parliamentary balloting, Mr. Odinga’s party won 95 of 210 legislative seats and half of Mr. Kibaki’s Cabinet lost their seats.

More than 300 people have been killed and 250,000 forced from their homes in protests and clashes since this country of 34 million went to the polls.

Makeshift roadblocks were set up along main roads by young men enraged over Mr. Kibaki’s re-election.

“Kibaki should quit office if he is mindful of dying Kenyans,” said Nelson Onchiri, who was manning a roadblock of piled rocks along a highway in western Nyanza province, forcing hundreds of cars to stop. He opened the road after an opposition lawmaker appealed to him to let people through.

In the Mathare slum of the capital, Nairobi, several shacks were set ablaze and residents attacked each other with machetes. One man said people from Mr. Odinga’s Luo tribe were fighting a gang from Mr. Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe. Police opened fire, and one man was fatally shot in the head, according to an AP Television News cameraman.

Looters tried to break into a supermarket in the capital, but police fired live rounds in the air.

Thousands in and around Nairobi’s slums — home to one-third of the capital’s population — lined up for food after days of riots left them cut off, and shortages have led to major price increases.

In a fairground on the outskirts of the Kibera shantytown, volunteers were handing out sacks of maize and laundry detergent to women and children.

Kaltuma Musa, 12, who was among hundreds of children thronging a volunteer handing out cookies, said she came because she heard there was food.

The girl popped one cookie in her mouth and put another in her pocket. “I’ll take this one home,” she said. “It’s for my mother.”

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