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Kenyan President Invites Rival for Talks


Kenya's main opposition party has canceled planned nationwide protests, saying it wants to give international mediation a chance to resolve a post-election dispute that plunged the east African country into chaos eight days ago. As the death toll from the ethnic and political unrest rose to 500, the top U.S. envoy to Africa said the vote-counting was rigged and urged Kenyan leaders to quickly find a solution to the crisis and to implement political, social, and electoral reforms. President Bush has urged Kenya's government and opposition to engage in peaceful dialogue to end the nation's election standoff. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party, Raila Odinga, called off the planned protests after his second meeting in three days with the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer in Nairobi.

The U.S. envoy has been meeting with Mr. Odinga and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to encourage a political reconciliation between the two men, who fought in the closest race in Kenya's history.

The opposition leader accuses Mr. Kibaki of rigging the December 27 presidential vote and has called for his resignation. The president says he will not step down, but is willing to discuss a power-sharing deal with Mr. Odinga.

The opposition leader has rejected the offer and says international mediation is needed to break the political impasse.

Speaking to reporters, Assistant Secretary Frazer criticized Kenya's electoral commission, calling it a flawed institution that needed reform.

She said that she believed both political parties were guilty of rigging the vote-counting and did not blame Kenyans for feeling cheated.

"They have been cheated by their political leadership and the institutions. The principle here is really that Kenyan institutions be respected and strengthened and that political dialogue is necessary for fundamental reconciliation. In that dialogue, we, the United States, hopes that they will do more than accommodate each other, that they will actually work on the institutional challenges and the social grievances that this crisis has clearly demonstrated have existed," she said.

Allegations of vote-rigging by Mr. Kibaki unleashed a wave of political violence in the country of nearly 35 million people. The violence quickly degenerated into tribal clashes, particularly between the president's majority Kikuyu tribe and Mr. Odinga's Luo tribe.

Last week, more than 30 ethnic Kikuyus were burned to death in a church in the western Rift Valley town of Eldoret, prompting the government to accuse the opposition of inciting genocide. The opposition is no less angry, accusing government security forces of committing crimes against humanity for using excessive force to put down the violence.

The diplomatic talks in Nairobi come amid U.N. warnings that 250,000 people, uprooted by ethnic violence, need urgent humanitarian assistance.

Assistant Secretary Frazer says the United States is concerned that even if a political solution is found, lingering tension and anger between some tribes may still leave the country divided and uncertain about its future.

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