Bomb unites Kenya's political foes

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SEVEN MONTHS after Kenya's presidential elections, the chief opposition leader Mwai Kibaki finally sat down with the man who beat him in the poll and who had since refused to meet him.

In the presidential car that sped to the site of last Friday's bomb blast in central Nairobi, Mr Kibaki chatted with President Daniel arap Moi and other opposition leaders Raila Odinga, Michael Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu. It was their first known group meeting since December's elections. They had just held talks at State House and decided to visit the site together to show solidarity with other Kenyans.

The deadly bomb blast, which killed at least 247 and wounded 5,000, has sparked an eruption of patriotism rarely seen in Kenya.

"Call it the positive side of Black Friday for lack of better terminology," the influential Daily Nation newspaper said in an editorial on Wednesday, which also urged Kenyans not to abandon the unity of purpose forged in the blast's aftermath.

"The rebirth and effusion of nationalism that has been triggered by the madness of international terrorism continues.

"What is one to make of the tremendous response to the appeal for blood? When did a blood donor service anywhere in the world ever turn people away because they had more than enough supply? It has happened in Kenya," the newspaper added.

Usually divided on tribal lines, politicians have hardly mentioned their ethnic groups in the past six days and such phrases as "our loss" have been frequently heard in their speeches.

Kenya's presidential press service, which traditionally devotes no room to opposition politicians unless they have made a speech in support of Mr Moi, spoke of "exemplary solidarity". The President cancelled an official tour of South Africa and visited the site four times in as many days to lend moral support to the multinational rescue mission.

The bomb was the most devastating terrorist attack to rock the Moi presidency, which began when he took over from President Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. The only other was a bomb blast at Nairobi's Norfolk hotel in December 1979.

The media hailed the response of ordinary people to the blast, who have turned up to try to rescue their compatriots with their bare hands.

The only cloud remained a strike by 12,000 commercial bank staff, protesting at government plans to tax their low-interest loans.

The staff have since been sacked. They have offered to return to work - but only if the government commits itself to scrapping the tax.

Meanwhile, families of bomb victims have been unable to withdraw money to meet medical bills or funeral expenses.