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Kenyan Business Leaders Meet on Political Crisis

More than 300 Kenyan business leaders are offering their support for former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's mediation effort in the country's political crisis. During a meeting in Nairobi, the group called for the government and opposition to take steps to reduce violence and insecurity that has severely damaged Kenya's economic performance since a disputed presidential election in late December. Derek Kilner reports for VOA from Nairobi.

As negotiations between representatives of President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga continued in Kenya's capital, more than 300 executives from Kenya's business community gathered to discuss a response to the continuing violence that has plagued the country since December 27 elections.

Following the forum, Michael Joseph, CEO of Kenya's leading mobile phone provider Safaricom, read a statement from the business leaders pledging support for the mediation effort led by Mr. Annan.

"The forum reiterated that there was no option for the talks to fail and pledged 105 percent support towards your team," he said. "Recognizing the strategic position of Kenya as a business hub, the business community demand the immediate securing of all transport networks in order to ease the movement of goods and persons."

The widespread violence set off by the December 27 election, which the opposition says was rigged, has done significant damage to an economy that enjoyed close to seven percent growth last year, according to government estimates.

Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chairman Steven Smith described some estimates of the damage suffered by the economy so far.

"We have roughly 49,000 jobs that have been lost when you look at tourism and other businesses," he noted. "We have manufacturing in the month of January that was impacted about 40 percent. When we look at tourism at the coast there used to be 34,000 people there, last week we had about 1,900 in a week."

Insecurity on Kenya's roads has been a particular concern, especially with Kenya's role as a regional economic hub. Smith said about 70 trucks and 300 minibuses had already been destroyed. Many more vehicles have canceled trips.

Mr. Annan described the important role the business community can play in helping to bring about a solution.

"It is important for all of us to realize that this is not an issue for political leaders alone. Each and every one of us has a role to play," he said. "I think what you have done today is a powerful message that you are sending to Kenyans, to your workers."

Negotiations between the government and opposition continue, with discussion focusing on finding a political solution.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Red Cross raised its estimates of the number of people killed in post-election violence to 1,000 and the total number displaced to 300,000.