Kenyan Opposition Candidate Calls for Mass Rallies

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Kenya's opposition leader on Sunday signaled he is willing to share power with the government he accuses of rigging elections, but at the same time called for mass rallies — a move that threatens renewed bloodletting.

Weary Kenyans, some hungry and homeless after a week of violence marked by ethnic clashes, prayed for peace Sunday and begged their leaders to break the political deadlock.

"This fighting is meaningless," said Eliakim Omondi, 17, at a Lutheran church in Nairobi's Kibera slum that was torched last week. "I wish they would just talk and square everything so the fighting will stop."

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Pastor Dennis Meeker urged congregants kneeling before a charred cross to "be with those who tried to kill you and destroy you." A woman dropped to the floor screaming "Forgive the people who attacked our church!"

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims incumbent President Mwai Kibaki stole the vote, told reporters he was ready to talk about sharing power, but only through a mediator empowered to negotiate an agreement that the international community would guarantee.

He welcomed the imminent arrival of Ghana's President John Kufuor, current chairman of the African Union, who is expected in Nairobi by Tuesday.

Jendayi Frazer, the leading U.S. diplomat on Africa, was in Nairobi talking to both Kibaki and Odinga, whom the United States, Britain and the European Union have urged to negotiate. The East African nation is considered an ally in the fight against terrorism, and the explosion of violence has damaged its image as a stable democracy and attraction for millions of tourists in a region rent by wars, uprisings and civil unrest.

More than 300 people have died and 250,000 have been forced from their homes in the upheaval over the ballot, only the second free election since Kenya's 1963 independence from Britain.

The troubles eased over the weekend, although there have been isolated machete fights and ethnic attacks, and police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the coastal tourist town of Mombasa.

But more clashes are likely if Odinga presses ahead with his call for supporters to rally Tuesday in defiance of a government ban. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said any such demonstrations would be illegal.

"If there is any bloodshed during these rallies it will be the government's responsibility," Odinga told reporters.

Attempts to rally last week were blocked by police who fired tear gas, water cannons and live bullets over people's heads. Human rights groups accuse police of excessive force and unjustified killings in the crisis, but police Commissioner Hussein Ali insisted Sunday that "We have not shot anyone."

Kibaki, re-elected by a narrow margin in a vote count that international observers say was deeply flawed, said Saturday after meeting with Frazer that he was willing to form a unity government.

Odinga rejected that proposal, but his spokesman Salim Lone said they were open to other solutions.

"A government of national unity is not acceptable to us," he said. "But there are other formulations, such as a coalition government with genuine power sharing, that we are willing to discuss." He said his party differentiates between a unity government, where the president has considerable power, and a coalition government that has greater possibilities for power sharing and where Kibaki need not necessarily even be president.

The other opposition proposal is to set up an interim government with a mandate to hold new presidential elections, he said. But Kibaki has said only a court could order fresh elections — an unlikely event since he has packed the judiciary with his allies.

It would be nearly impossible for Kibaki to govern without opposition support. In a parliamentary election that was held the same day as the presidential election, Odinga's party won 95 of 210 legislative seats, and half of Kibaki's Cabinet lost their seats. It was a sign of people's anger over pervasive corruption and nepotism that favored his Kikuyu tribe. Simmering resentment of the Kikuyus was ignited in the violence.

In the central Rift Valley that is Odinga's stronghold, thousands of Kikuyus fled their homes over the weekend, escorted by soldiers down roads strewn with corpses and burned out vehicles.

Tens of thousands of people are hungry, cut off from supplies as the crisis has closed down shops and transport across Kenya. What food is available has tripled in price.

The United Nations tried to help Sunday, sending 20 truckloads of grain, pulses and vegetable oil that had been stuck in Mombasa port. Vigilante roadblocks and other insecurity had halted shipments.

The convoy of trucks left without an expected armed escort, but a police vehicle was seen racing to catch up, about 60 miles outside Mombasa.

The food was destined for some 100,000 people "who are in dire need" in Nairobi and in central Eldoret city, according to U.N. World Food Program logistics officer Lemma Jembere.

Red Cross workers trying to distribute food Sunday in Nairobi's Mathare slum were swamped by hundreds of people who crowded around their truck. Police arrived to control the mob and food was handed out for a while, but the distribution eventually was suspended for security reasons.