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Annan arrives in Kenya, urges rivals to talk

NAIROBI - Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived in Kenya on Tuesday to try to end a political crisis that has killed at least 650 people, and called on the feuding parties to start talks and respect the rule of law.

The disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki in a Dec. 27 vote unleashed weeks of ethnic and political violence that have severely damaged one of Africa's most promising economies and left around 250,000 people homeless.

An anti-riot policeman walks through tear gas during a march in support of Kenya's president Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi January 22, 2008. (REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)

Despite pressure from Western powers -- and to the disgust of millions of ordinary Kenyans -- Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have still not met to discuss a way out of the crisis.

Odinga says Kibaki stole his victory and has used the power of the state to consolidate his control of the government.

Shortly after his arrival in Nairobi, Annan told reporters the two sides must begin talks in good faith and respect the rule of law.

"We expect all parties to enter into dialogue in good faith ... Our message to the parties is this: there can be no solution, no peace and stability ... without respect for the rule of law," Annan said.

Annan's mediation mission follows a similar attempt earlier this month by Ghanaian President John Kufuor, the head of the African Union, who was unable to get Kibaki and Odinga to meet.

He faces an uphill task resolving a bitter dispute between two men who deeply distrust each other and are entrenched in apparently irreconcilable positions.

"Short of getting them both in a choke-hold and banging their heads together, Mr Annan has very little leverage on either President Kibaki and Mr Odinga or their respective entourages of myopic warmongers and sycophants," columnist Macharia Gaitho wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper.

Diplomats hope Annan, a Nobel Peace laureate whose negotiating experience ranges from Israel to Darfur, can bring Kibaki and Odinga to the same table, and possibly persuade them to join some sort of power-sharing arrangement.

In the latest violence, a mob killed a member of Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe by setting him on fire inside his car in the volatile Rift Valley, police said on Tuesday.

Police, who have banned all demonstrations, fired teargas to disperse supporters of Kibaki in central Nairobi hours before Annan's arrival.

Riot police scattered about 100 government supporters who had been chanting "Lead on, Kibaki!", sending business people scurrying for cover.


Weeks of bloodletting in a nation long seen as one of east Africa's most stable has undermined its democratic credentials and laid bare deep tribal divisions underpinning politics.

In a new sign of economic damage, Kenya's shilling neared a 14-month low versus the dollar and Kenya Airways said it has seen an 18 percent drop in passengers from Europe since the crisis began.

Scenes of police firing teargas and live ammunition in Nairobi slums, or of bloodied victims of machete and spear attacks in the picturesque Rift Valley, have sullied Kenya's image as a tourist haven and regional trade and aid hub.

An aid agency complained on Tuesday that the government was closing a Nairobi refugee camp, where victims of violence in the vast Kibera slum had fled.

"We can't tell people whose houses have burnt down in Kibera to go back to their homes. These people have rights," said Gerald Rukunga of the health charity AMREF.

Opposition Orange Democratic Movement chairman Anyang' Nyong'o said the party was filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, charging Kibaki, his cabinet and police commanders over killings of protesters.

"The charges are crimes against humanity," he said.

The government has taken out full-page adverts in newspapers accusing Western powers, the international media and rights groups of fanning unrest by questioning the election result.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger dismissed the adverts as "scurrilous propaganda".

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also flew into Nairobi on Tuesday to try to mediate.

(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks, Wangui Kanina, Bryson Hull and Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi)

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