Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki appealed for calm and offered to talk to political rivals on Thursday after another day of battles between police and protesters disputing his re-election.
“I am ready to have dialogue with the concerned parties once the nation is calm and the political temperatures are lowered enough for constructive and productive engagement,” Kibaki told reporters.
The turmoil has already cost at least 300 lives and threatens to wreck Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most promising democracies, strongest economies and favourite tourist destinations.
Warning Kenya was “quickly degenerating into a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions,” Attorney General Amos Wako said both sides should agree on an independent person or body to carry out “a proper tally” of votes from the December 27 poll. “Such an exercise will go a long way in assuaging the inflamed passions of people,” Wako said. But he added that while the tally should help political mediation, only a court could overturn Kibaki’s win.
Observers said the vote fell short of democratic standards.
African Union chair Ghana sought to build consensus around the continent for mediation. The European Union and United States urged both sides to seek a coalition government.
After hours of police clashes with thousands of protesters trying to reach central Nairobi, the opposition called off a planned demonstration in Uhuru (Freedom) Park, saying it wanted to save lives. But another protest was scheduled for Tuesday.
Currency and stock trading was halted on Thursday. The World Bank said the violence could threaten Kenya’s “impressive” economic gains and harm neighbouring countries that depend on it as a business hub.
The daily violence has shocked world leaders and choked supplies of fuel and other goods to a swathe of central Africa.
Pro-Kibaki legislators called for opposition leader Raila Odinga and others to be charged by the International Criminal Court for “ethnic cleansing and genocide”.
The government said “well-organised acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing were well planned, financed and rehearsed” by Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement ahead of last week’s vote.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni became the first African leader to send congratulations to Kibaki. But at the same time, Kampala closed its borders due to the violence.
Hundreds of refugees, however, were allowed to cross into Uganda, taking shelter in schools and churches. Kenyans are more used to taking in refugees from conflict zones in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda.
Kenyan media united in pleas for peace, with every major newspaper running the same front-page headline: “Save Our Beloved Country”.