Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed Thursday to take over talks to end the deadly turmoil linked to Kenya's presidential election, after days of international pressure resulted in nothing more than a fresh round of accusations from both sides.
The Dec. 27 election returned President Mwai Kibaki to power for another five-year term, with his opponent, Raila Odinga, coming in a close second after a vote tally that foreign observers say was rigged. More than 500 people have been killed in the ensuing violence.
"Both sides agree that there should be an end to violence," said African Union chairman John Kufuor as he left Kenya on Thursday after his two days of mediation failed even to get Kibaki and Odinga to meet.
Annan will not arrive in Nairobi to take over the talks before Jan. 15, his office in Geneva said. If his predecessor's experience was any indication, Annan will have a frustrating task ahead.
Sides trade blame
Both sides continued trading blame for the political deadlock. According to the government, Kibaki "offered dialogue," but Odinga was not responsive. Odinga, meanwhile, said Kibaki refused to sign an agreement to establish an interim coalition government and conduct an inquiry into the Electoral Commission of Kenya.
A government spokesman acknowledged Kibaki had not signed, saying he was not involved in the consultations.
Odinga has said he would meet Kibaki only in the presence of an international mediator, but Kibaki wants direct talks.
Hopes for a power-sharing compromise were dampened Thursday as Kibaki's allies were sworn in as Cabinet ministers.
Earlier, protesters from the women's wing of Odinga's party marched chanting "Kibaki is a thief!" Police fired tear gas at them — noting a ban on all demonstrations since the violence erupted — and the women ran away.
"We are calling for truth about what happened to our votes and the votes of Kenyans," said the chairman of the party's women's league, Jacqueline Oduol.
Kenya critical to war on terrorism
The European Union, the United States and Britain also have been pressing for Kibaki and Odinga to meet and added to the pressure in what Odinga's spokesman, Salim Lone, said was a "tense meeting" Thursday with U.S. envoy Jendayi Frazer, Kufuor, four former African heads of state, and the ambassadors from the U.S., Britain and France.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters in London that Britain has not recognized the new government, and that for that to happen, the Kenyan government would have to "clearly represent a credible expression of the will of the people."
Kenya is crucial to the war on terrorism, having turned over dozens of people to the U.S. and Ethiopia as suspected terrorists. It also allows American forces to operate from Kenyan bases and conducts joint exercises with U.S. troops in the region.
The U.S. is a major donor to Kenya, long seen as a stable democracy in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan. Aid amounts to roughly $1 billion a year, the U.S. Embassy said.
Kenya's electoral process
Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, an umbrella for civil groups formed after the elections, presented police with a long list of alleged charges against electoral commissioners and some staff, including forgery, subverting the rule of law, making out false certificates, and abuse of office.
The civic groups called for the prosecution of all 22 members of the commission and some of its staff, including vote-counters. Commission chairman Samuel Kivuiti pronounced Kibaki the winner, then later said he wasn't sure the results were accurate.
According to a Kenyan government Web site, Kibaki won 4,584,721 votes or 47 percent of the ballots cast, against Odinga's 4,352,993, or 44 percent.
"The electoral process is so seriously flawed that, until that is redressed, and until we have truth and justice about the election, we are not going to have a viable society in Kenya," said Shailja Patel of the Kenyans for Peace, which includes the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. The rights commission is state-funded but has proven to be independent.
Also Thursday, Kenyan voter Eliphaz Keya filed a lawsuit against Kibaki, Odinga and returning officers from two districts, saying the election was rigged and marred by violence. Kibaki has said anyone unhappy with the results should go to court, although the high court is loaded with his allies.