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Kenyan Tourism in Turmoil After Disputed Election

The chief of Kenya's leading tourism body says post-election chaos has sparked the worst crisis the country's travel industry has ever seen, and that hotels and suppliers are at risk of collapse unless the political impasse ends soon. Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi.

The violence that followed Kenya's December 27 election led to a mass exodus of vacationers during the peak of the country's tourist season. Hotels around the country have been all but empty and thousands of reservations have been canceled.

The director of the Kenya Tourist Board, Achieng Ogonga, says the industry has never experienced such a sharp downturn before, even after the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and a terrorist attack on a Mombasa hotel in 2002 that killed 13 people.

Ogonga says that the refusal by President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to negotiate is only making the matter worse because it has prevented the tourism industry from being able to offer deals to lure vacationers back to the country.

"We are sandwiched between the political crisis and the business," Achieng said. "We cannot make any plan forward unless the political crisis is resolved. If they would sit today, have dialogue, sort out their issues, the economy will pick up very fast because the Kenyan tourist industry has the capacity, highly skilled people, experienced and we have past lessons."

The extent of the damage to the tourist industry has been difficult to measure, but officials say it could result in 120,000 lost jobs. Tourism injected nearly one billion dollars into the economy last year.

Ogonga says that once a deal is reached, the Kenyan tourism industry will launch a massive campaign that will include discounts, junkets for travel writers and other enticements to drum up newly favorable press.

Despite the potential magnitude of the losses, President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga appear far from a compromise.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to arrive late Tuesday to mediate the crisis.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Odinga's camp announced it had filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands arguing that the Kibaki government's crackdown on protesters amounted to crimes against humanity.

At least 600 people have been killed and 250,000 have reportedly fled their homes since the violence began shortly after the vote, which observers said was seriously flawed.