Kenyan president invites rival to face-to-face talks on disputed poll

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki extended an olive branch to the opposition leader Raila Odinga last night, inviting him to face-to-face talks about the disputed election result which has plunged the country in chaos.

His offer of negotiations this Friday about how to stop the violence, consolidate peace and forge "national reconciliation" came as the senior US official for Africa acknowledged that Kenyans had been cheated by their leaders, but urged them to "haul themselves back from the brink".

Jendayi Frazer, who has spent three days meeting the two rivals in Nairobi, pointedly refused to recognise the disputed re-election of Mr Kibaki, which has sparked violent clashes across the country and left the Kenyan people reeling. "They have been cheated by their leadership and their institutions," said Ms Frazer. "The political leaders have to stop the violence and they have to reform the institutions."

New figures released by the government put the number of people killed in the post-electoral fighting at 486. The police said the figure was 600, while Mr Odinga put the number of dead at closer to 1,000.

But hopes rose that the worst of the clashes might now be over, with the opposition calling off a series of rallies planned for today. The announcement was greeted with relief by many of their own supporters, who feared fresh protests would lead to more unrest. Mr Odinga said: "We are prepared to go the extra mile to bring peace to this country."

There were also signs of a breakthrough on the international mediation front. John Kufuor, the President of Ghana who is the current chairman of the African Union, was due to arrive in Kenya last night. Meanwhile, the Law Society of Kenya became the latest civil group to question the re-election of Mr Kibaki. It accused electoral officials of "dishonesty and ineptitude" and called Mr Kibaki's swearing-in "null and void". Kenya's new parliament, in which Mr Odinga commands strong support, will be convened next week.

His Orange Democratic Movement won 95 of the 210 seats, compared with the 33 won by Mr Kibaki's Party of National Unity.

One avenue still open to Mr Odinga is a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Mr Kibaki. However, Kenyan politicians are notoriously fickle and analysts believe the president's allies will try to buy support from smaller parties with the offer of government positions.

Much-needed aid arrived at displacements camps across Kenya yesterday. A convoy of food from the United Nations' World Food Programme arrived in the Rift Valley, where more than 100,000 refugees are living. More than 250,000 people have fled their homes to avoid clashes between rival political supporters, ethnic groups and the police, and 500,000 are believed to be in need of assistance.

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