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Friday, February 22, 2008

People's President abruptly jets out of Kenya

NAIROBI - Kenya's opposition leader unexpectedly left the country Friday, the day government negotiators and their rivals had promised to sign a power-sharing deal to end the postelection crisis that has sparked weeks of deadly violence
Raila Odinga left Kenya on a charter flight to Nigeria, according to an airport employee and two officials from Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement. Odinga was expected back Saturday and was still available for consultations on the negotiations while out of the country, said opposition official Musalia Mudavadi.

Mudavadi added that the government had not shown up on time at a luxury hotel where the two sides were trying to negotiate a deal to end the political standoff following President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election, local and foreign observers say was rigged. "There has been a delay from the other side," Mudavadi said. "So we are waiting to hear their communication." Earlier, he had said the negotiations had made "good progress so far." On Thursday, the two sides appeared to be edging toward a deal as the government tentatively agreed to create a prime minister's post to be filled by the opposition. Government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo said a political deal was expected Friday after weeks of international pressure on both sides to share power. "I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel," former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who has been mediating in the political negotiations, said in a statement Thursday.

Odinga was scheduled to meet Friday with Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, the AU executive body. It was not immediately clear if the two met before Odinga left the country. The December 27 election returned Kibaki to power for a second five-year term after Odinga's lead in early vote-counting evaporated overnight. The ensuing violence has stirred up ethnic grievances over land and poverty that have bedeviled Kenya since independence in 1963. More than 1,000 people have been killed. Much of the bloodshed has pitted other ethnic groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long resented for dominating politics and the economy.

On Thursday, a man was hacked to death in a Nairobi slum, police said. Witnesses said the fight started when a group of young Luos — the same ethnic group as Odinga — began taunting Kikuyus. "They started hurling insults then throwing stone at the Kikuyus, who are their neighbors," said a woman selling vegetables in the slum. The Kikuyus then attacked, killing a Luo man, said the woman, who asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution. A think tank said Thursday that armed groups on opposing sides of the political and ethnic strife are mobilizing for new attacks and serious violence could erupt again if peace talks fail. "Calm has partly returned but the situation remains highly volatile," the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group said in a report. "Armed groups are still mobilizing on both sides."

Talks between Kibaki and Odinga have focused on how to create a broader-based government to end the crisis. In particular, Odinga and his backers have demanded that the president share power. The country remains caught between a desire to move on from waves of ethnic attacks and a fear that any compromise could spark new fighting.

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