African Union chief pushes for solution to Kenya crisis

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The chairman of the African Union John Kufuor shuttled between Kenya's President and opposition leader to try to break a political impasse behind post-election turmoil that has killed about 500 people.

Mr Kufuor, Ghana's President, met President Mwai Kibaki at his State House office and residence yesterday, then met Raila Odinga for talks at a hotel. He was due to meet both again later.

Mr Odinga says he was cheated out of winning the election on 27 December by ballot rigging by Mr Kibaki's supporters. Washington and London have said the vote counting was flawed. The crisis has dented Kenya's reputation for stability and damaged its economy.

Long used to hosting refugees from hot-spots like Sudan and Somalia, Kenya has more than 250,000 of its own people displaced, many victims of inter-ethnic fighting.

In a statement after their meeting, Mr Kibaki's office said the President assured Mr Kufuor that he was initiating dialogue and "would continue to reach out to Kenyan leaders."

Mr Kibaki has implied that he could bring opposition figures into government and invited Mr Odinga to a face-to-face meeting tomorrow. But the opposition leader has declined, saying such a meeting would be a "sideshow" without an international mediator. Neither Mr Odinga nor Mr Kufuor discussed their meeting publicly. "Negotiations are at a very sensitive stage... there will be no diplomacy through the media," said a spokesman for Mr Odinga. Mr Kufuor's spokesman said more talks were planned.

International pressure for a negotiated solution is growing. Possible solutions include power-sharing or fresh elections.

Mr Kibaki's naming of 17 ministers in a new cabinet on Tuesday sparked more violence. Kenya's main newspaper, The Daily Nation, said the appointments – which included several figures hated by the opposition – may "poison the atmosphere.

"It will be seen as a sign of bad faith ahead of the discussions about to begin," the newspaper said.

Officials say 486 people have died in election-related violence. But aid workers put the figure at more than 500, and the opposition say the toll could be nearer 1,000. reuters