Kenyan President, Rival Hold Talks on Election
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In Kenya, today, the sitting president and his main rival held their first talks since the disputed December 27th presidential election. Both men, along with mediator Kofi Annan, emerged from the meeting, shaking hands and promising to work toward peace; a hopeful sign after nearly a month of violence. But within hours of the meeting, both sides were again crying foul.
From the capital Nairobi, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: President Mwai Kibaki and his political rival Raila Odinga were all smiles when they shook hands after an hour-long meeting with the former U.N. secretary general turned peace broker. Kofi Annan succeeded where other international mediators had failed. He got the two to sit down and talk.
Mr. KOFI ANNAN (Former U.N. Secretary General): The two leaders are here to underline their engagement, to dialogue. Time is of the essence. And I want to join my brothers in appealing for calm and an immediate end to the violence.
QUIST-ARCTON: Annan said this process could take weeks or even months. Now, while politics and a disputed presidential vote was a trigger for weeks of deadly violence and 650 deaths in Kenya, there has also been ethnic bloodletting between different tribes.
Mr. RAILA ODINGA (Kenyan Politician; Opposition Leader): Today, we are taking the first vital steps in resolving the lesser disputes and conflicts.
QUIST-ARCTON: Odinga insists Kibaki robbed him of the presidency. But now, he's talking peace.
Mr. ODINGA: I pledge to all Kenyans that my team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis.
QUIST-ARCTON: The Kibaki-Odinga meeting was a significant development in Kenya after a tense political standoff. But the choice of words used by President Kibaki angered the opposition. The Kenyan leader appeared to be saying his job as head of state was not negotiable.
President MWAI KIBAKI (Kenya): After being sworn in as your duly elected president of Kenya, I will personally lead our country in promoting unity, tolerance, peace and harmony among Kenyans.
QUIST-ARCTON: Raila Odinga's opposition party pointed to the phrase duly elected president as evidence of Kibaki undermining Kofi Annan's mediation efforts. Almost immediately after the handshakes and smiles, the feel-good atmosphere soured into recrimination, which each side accusing the other of insincerity and trying to sabotage the negotiations.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.