Rivals in talks to end crisis in Kenya

The two rivals in Kenya's political crisis pledged to work towards peace yesterday after meeting for the first time since the disputed election that sparked the country's unrest.

Onlookers clapped and cheered as President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands and smiled after the discussions, which were brokered by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. "I think we began to take some fair steps towards a peaceful solution," Mr Annan said afterwards outside Mr Kibaki's central Nairobi office, where the talks took place.

The two leaders have not spoken since the poll on 27 December, despite intense pressure from Western powers and millions of anxious Kenyans. Mr Odinga, who claims President Kibaki's team stole the election, said the talks would continue until a solution was found. "My team and I will spare no effort to resolve this crisis," he said. Mr Kibaki vowed to lead the east African nation to unity. "I appeal to all Kenyans to remain calm and to shun violence as we endeavour to find solutions," he said. "I am confident that together, our experience, unity and determination will make it possible for us to overcome the challenges."

The meeting was a major breakthrough after nearly four weeks of unrest in which 700 people have died and 250,000 have been forced to flee their homes.

Mr Annan had earlier persuaded the opposition Orange Democratic Movement to call off protests it had planned for yesterday. The ODM had called for an international mediator to end the crisis which has split Kenya down tribal and political lines.

In Mr Odinga's western stronghold of Kisumu youths burnt tyres, saying they were angry that their leader had been caught in police tear gas on Wednesday. Local media said four people were killed in violence in the Rift Valley towns of Molo and Nakuru.