A Cabinet minister on Monday rejected former U.N. chief Kofi Annan as a mediator in Kenya's political strife, a day before he was expected in Nairobi hoping to help resolve bloodshed set off by the disputed presidential election.
Public works minister John Michuki spoke as many public schools reopened after a weeklong closure because of violence following the Dec. 27 ballot. The sight of children trooping back to class provided a semblance of normality, but tensions remained.
Foreign observers have said vote tallying in the presidential race was deeply flawed, and Kenya's electoral commission chairman has said he is not sure who won even though his panel announced vote totals giving a narrow re-election victory to President Mwai Kibaki.
The results angered opposition supporters, and more than 600 people have been killed in violence that has often involved animosities among the East African nation's many tribes.
Michuki, a member of the president's inner circle, said there is no need for outside help.
"We won the elections ... We do not see the point for anyone coming to mediate power-sharing," he said. "We have not invited Kofi Annan or any other eminent personality to come and mediate."
It was unclear if Michuki spoke for Kibaki, but the president previously said he did not want a mediator but rather sought direct talks with his election rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Protests set to start Wednesday
Since mediation by the United States and African Union failed last week, Odinga has called for three days of protests beginning Wednesday in defiance of a new government ban on demonstrations.
Police, who have been accused by humans rights workers of killing dozens of protesters, said they would not allow any rallies, setting the stage for more clashes.
Alluding to the calls for demonstrations, Annan appealed for calm before his departure Monday from Geneva.
"Pending this (mediation), no party should create facts on the ground or engage in acts that complicate the search for a negotiated solution," he said. "The purpose of our mission is to help the Kenyan people find a peaceful and just solution to the current crisis."
In the western town of Kisumu, where dozens of protesters were killed in the days after the election results were announced, shopkeepers welded metal shutters over store fronts Monday to guard against looting.
Lines stretched around the block from some supermarkets and banks as people stocked up in case new protest rallies again paralyzed the nation.
Schools began reopening, but some were still closed because they were being used as refugee centers or were burned during the riots. Officials could not say what percentage of students showed up for class nationwide.
Evelyn Imbwana, who was forced from her Nairobi home by the violence, said her children's school remained closed because it was looted. "It's unfair that we suffer while politicians fight," she said.
Parliament showdown Tuesday?
Political parties braced for a showdown at Tuesday's opening of the newly elected parliament, where Odinga's party won 99 seats to Kibaki's 43.
"We are going to go to parliament and sit on the government side and that will make clear who won the election," opposition spokesman Salim Lone said.
Both parties were courting legislators from smaller parties, in hopes of drumming up the two-thirds majority needed to elect a speaker of the National Assembly.
The official death toll rose as more bodies were found. Rachel Arungah, head of a government committee set up to coordinate aid, said at least 612 people had been killed.
Arungah said the number of homeless had dropped from 255,000 to about 200,000 as people moved in with relatives or returned home.