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Kenyan Opposition Says Planned Demonstrations Will Ease Tensions

Countering Kenyan government's warnings that political protests will lead to more violence, Kenya's opposition party says its plans to hold three days of demonstrations this week are intended to diffuse growing political and ethnic tensions in the east African country. The opposition renewed its call for mass action after nearly two weeks of international mediation failed to resolve a bitter post-election dispute that sparked unprecedented violence throughout the country. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

A spokesman for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party, Salim Lone, tells VOA that the protests, scheduled to be held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday across the country, are intended to give Kenyans a chance to vent their frustrations over the government's refusal to negotiate a deal that can end weeks of deadlock between two bitter political rivals, opposition leader Raila Odinga and incumbent President Mwai Kibaki.

Lone says as long as the police and other security forces do not try to enforce the government's ban on political rallies, he believes the protests could help calm opposition supporters and other Kenyans who believe the presidential election on December 27 fell far short of democratic standards.

In previous attempts to demonstrate, police dispersed crowds with tear gas, water cannons, and live bullets that have reportedly killed and wounded dozens of people.

"In fact, the rallies will diminish the chance of violence, if they are allowed to take place. At the rallies, we will be able to communicate with the people. The people will feel much better that they have been allowed to exercise their democratic rights. Right now, they feel like they are in prison. They cannot come out and exercise what is promised in the constitution," said Lone.

The opposition says the December 27 presidential election was stolen by Mr. Kibaki, who claimed a narrow victory over Odinga after a vote-count that international observers say was seriously flawed.

In opposition strongholds in Nairobi and western areas of Kenya, allegations of fraud sparked days of rioting that quickly turned into deadly clashes between tribes. On Monday, the Kenyan police said the national death toll from the two-week turmoil has risen above 700.

Mr. Kibaki says he wants direct talks with Raila Odinga to negotiate a power-sharing deal. But the opposition leader says he will only work with Mr. Kibaki through an international mediator and wants a re-run of the election. Meanwhile, President Kibaki has entrenched his position by partly naming a cabinet, convening parliament on Tuesday, and continuing with state functions.

African Union chief, John Kufuor and other diplomats, including the top U.S. envoy for Africa Jendayi Frazer, failed last week to bring the two sides together. On Tuesday, former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan is expected to arrive in Nairobi with several other influential African leaders to lead another, more intense round of mediation efforts.

Salim Lone says opposition members are hopeful that the mediation process and attention from the international community will help them reach an agreement with Mr. Kibaki's Party of National Unity.

"Mr. Kufuor had to go back after two days and Mr. Annan will have more time, number one. Number two, I think the international community's views have become much clearer in the last couple of days," he said.

On Sunday, the European Union joined the United States in stating that there will be no business as usual with Kenya until both parties reach a political compromise that can restore stability.

Mr. Kibaki's close confidant and cabinet minister, John Michuki, replied that the government sees no need for outside mediation to end the deadlock and said foreign governments should keep out Kenyan affairs.