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Kenya's Kibaki turns on critics, Odinga hailed

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s government went on the offensive against critics on Monday, condemning opposition economic boycott plans as “sabotage” and summoning the British ambassador for a ticking off.
Image: Kenyan opposition challenger Raila Odinga
Opposition challenger Raila Odinga addresses his supporters gathered after a church service in Nairobi's Kibera slums, on Sunday.Radu Sigheti / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s government went on the offensive against critics on Monday, condemning opposition economic boycott plans as “sabotage” and summoning the British ambassador for a ticking off.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga returned to the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, for the first time since the disputed election of December 27, to a rapturous welcome from supporters at a memorial for those killed in unrest.

“I’m saddened by the brutal killing of innocent unarmed people demonstrating peacefully,” Odinga told Reuters as thousands sang his name and six coffins of people said to be shot by police were laid out in a stadium in the western town.

“Kibaki has proved he has no respect for democracy. I’m the rightful, elected president.”

About 650 people have died in violence since Kibaki’s re-election last month, and 250,000 people have also been displaced in a country that is more used to receiving refugees from war-torn neighbors like Sudan and Somalia.

Most foreign and local observers say the poll was flawed, but the government says the opposition pre-planned violence.

The crisis has damaged one of the continent’s most promising economies, cut off supplies to neighbors, and threatened to taint Kibaki’s reputation as the man who democratized Kenya after the 24-year rule of President Daniel arap Moi.

Government takes increasingly militant stance
In an increasingly militant reaction to criticism from abroad, Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula summoned Britain’s High Commissioner Adam Wood to express displeasure.

Officials are particularly irate at comments by Meg Munn, parliamentary undersecretary of state for the Foreign Office, that Britain has “not recognized” Kibaki’s government.

“Our elections don’t need a stamp of authority from the House of Commons,” Wetangula told reporters. British officials confirmed the meeting, but offered no more details.

The opposition has vowed to continue street rallies from Thursday and also called for a boycott of companies owned by Kibaki allies. They include Equity Bank, Brookside Dairies and bus companies CityHoppa and Kenya Bus.

“Sabotage of companies (is) illegal and an insult to Kenyans,” the government said in a statement, adding that ODM leaders would be held accountable for any damage.

The boycott call may be more symbolic than real, however, given that many of Kenya’s poor use Equity because of its accessibility and low charges, while commuters in long queues may not want to wait even longer by shunning certain buses.

3 hacked to death in latest violence
In the latest violence, three people were hacked to death in ethnic fighting in a Nairobi slum on Sunday, while police said four people died in violence related to land disputes in the volatile Rift Valley.

In jittery Kenyan markets, the shilling currency hit a 10-month low against the U.S. dollar on Monday.

In Kisumu, devastated by riots and protests, residents whistled, banged drums and marched in ceremonies both honoring the dead and celebrating Odinga.

“We have come both to mourn and to happily welcome our president back home,” Rose Akinyi, 35, a tailor, while dancing to a dirge from the local Luo culture.

In the latest international mediation attempt, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan was due to fly into Kenya to start talks with both sides on Tuesday. Diplomats hope he can bring Kibaki and Odinga into some sort of power-sharing arrangement, possibly before a fresh vote in the east African nation.

Kenyans, however, are skeptical of such a solution.

“It seems every time we vote, we bring a bloodbath upon ourselves,” said a Nairobi housewife, Joy, who asked for her surname not to be used. “Why would we want another election?”