NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya's president is ready to form "a government of national unity" to help resolve disputed elections that caused deadly riots, a government statement said Saturday without explaining what such a power-sharing arrangement might involve.
President Mwai Kibaki made the statement to Jendayi Frazer, the leading U.S. diplomatic for Africa, according to the director of the presidential news service, Isaiya Kabira.
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Kabira said he could not say whether that was a formal offer to opposition leader Raila Odinga, who accuses Kibaki of stealing the Dec. 27 elections that international observers say had a deeply flawed vote count.
Frazer, who met with Odinga earlier Saturday, would be meeting with the opposition leader again, Kabira said, implying she might be carrying a message from Kibaki.
Odinga told a news conference he had not received any formal offer from the government, but added "Let them put that on the table when we are negotiating." He declined to say what his response would be.
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On Friday, Odinga called for a transitional government to organize a new election, but Kibaki said a rerun could be ordered only by the High Court.
There was no immediate statement from Frazer on her 90-minute meeting with Kibaki or her talks with Odinga.
Kabira read a government statement that quoted Frazer as saying that "by extending an olive branch to the opposition, President Kibaki had shown his commitment to ending the political impasse."
"She expressed optimism that all concerned parties will work together toward restoring normalcy in Kenya."
The statement said Kibaki reiterated his readiness to work with all involved parties.
"The President said he was ready to form a Government of National Unity that would not only unite Kenyans but would also help in the healing and reconciliation process," the statement said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Frazer's mission is designed to complement other international efforts to encourage a peaceful solution. South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu held talks with Kibaki and Odinga on Friday and said both "indicated they are open to the possibilities of negotiations."
Some 300 people have been killed and 100,000 made homeless in violent protests and clashes since the vote. The turbulence has taken an ugly ethnic twist, with other tribes pitted against President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu people, and brought chaos to a country once considered an island of stability in violence-plagued East Africa.
On Saturday, an Associated Press photographer watched residents of Mathare slum battling with machetes. Police who tried to intervene were surrounded by an angry crowd and had to flee with the wounded. One man had half his leg hacked away and two others appeared seriously injured.
Trouble has spread from Nairobi, the capital, to the western highlands and to the coast. In the coastal tourist city of Mombasa on Saturday, police fired tear gas in a bid to disperse protesters for a second day running.
"Kibaki must go!" the scores of demonstrators shouted.
On Friday, Kibaki said he would accept opposition calls for a rerun of the election only if a court orders it. Kenya's high court, its members largely appointed by Kibaki, could annul the vote as illegal, which would force a new vote.
Thousands in the capital's slums, meanwhile, have lined up for food after days of riots left them cut off.
The U.N. World Food Program said it was scrambling to bring food to 100,000 displaced people in the Rift Valley. The agency said trucks were slowed because of insecurity.
Food shortages in Mombasa caused prices to rise. The cost of a loaf of bread more than doubled to about $1, said Michael Musembi, who sells wood carvings.
France's foreign minister said that the Kenyan elections "were totally rigged."
Bernard Kouchner, speaking on France's RTL radio Friday, did not say what evidence he had for that conclusion, but said it was shared by "the Americans, the British, who know the country well."
In Britain, the former colonial power in Kenya, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement Friday that given the "serious questions about the conduct of the count," Kenya's leaders should consider sharing power.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul has suggested that EU aid to Kenya could be frozen if Kenyan officials spurn international offers of mediation.
Attorney General Amos Wako has called for an independent investigation of the vote counting. The call from Wako, who is considered close to Kibaki, was a surprise and could reflect the seriousness of the rigging allegations.
But Odinga's spokesman, Lone, rejected the suggestion, saying his party had "no faith in any government institution."
Kenyan businesses have lost millions of dollars and the country's vitally important tourism industry suffered as British and other tour operators canceled planned vacations.
At Mombasa airport on Saturday, 218 Swedish tourists were boarding a charter flight, cutting short their two-week holiday after just nine days.
"It is sad for me and for the lovely people of Kenya," Vivian Johanson said through sobs. She said their travel agent had organized the charter and advised them to return home.
Another tourist in her group, Rolf Carlsson, said he was not sure why he, his wife and son had to leave. "I feel safe and still want to stay and complete my holiday," he said.
The World Bank said the unrest "threatens impressive recent gains in economic growth and poverty reduction" in a country with a billion-dollar tourism industry and a gross domestic product growth rate of 7 percent.