News 2008


Thousands Mourn Slain Lawmaker in Kenya


Saturday, February 16, 2008

PORT VICTORIA, Kenya - Thousands turned out Saturday to bury a slain opposition lawmaker as political rivals struggled to agree on a power-sharing plan to resolve the violent, drawn-out election crisis in Kenya.

Melitus Mugabe Were, 39, was shot twice in the head on Jan. 29 during the violence that erupted in the wake of Kenya's Dec. 27 presidential vote. Two days later, opposition legislator David Kimutai Too also was killed. Both deaths triggered violence in the capital, Nairobi.

More than 1,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by clashes, arson and looting triggered by disputed election results in which President Mwai Kibaki claimed victory and opposition leader Raila Odinga alleged fraud.

On Saturday, thousands arrived at Were's funeral in Port Victoria in minivan taxis emblazoned with stickers for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party. Many wore T-shirts in the party color. Some in the crowd wailed with grief.

"I am bitter about Were's death because we want young people to contribute to running our country," said truck driver Salmin Swaleh. "It is time for change, but the old elite are killing these young guys who would be a force to be reckoned with."

One mourner called his death "a political assassination."

"The government is threatened by people with potential like Were. They feel safer to eliminate potential leaders and reduce the opposition in parliament," said Michelle Ruth Obiero, an NGO worker.

Odinga arrived with his wife to cheers and a standing ovation.

The funeral took place a day after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that Kenya's political rivals had agreed, after weeks of negotiations, to allowing an independent review of the election.

The preliminary agreement signed Thursday after 48 hours of secret talks calls for an independent review committee to investigate the 2007 presidential election and issue a report in three to six months.

The agreement also calls for the two sides to draw up a new constitution within a year, which could pave the way for a prime minister's post or another way to share power.

"Let me assure you that there is real momentum," Annan told reporters Friday. "We are at the water's edge and the last difficult and frightening step, as difficult as it is, will be taken."

However, Odinga and Kibaki remain deadlocked on proposals to share power, and the two sides have not agreed on whether to hold a rerun election as the opposition has demanded.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Kenya's leaders "to continue to display the spirit of compromise and the vision of national reconciliation that will be critical to healing the Kenyan nation."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, due in Kenya on Monday, is expected to call for an immediate end to the violence. She and a top U.S. envoy are to meet with Kibaki and Odinga.

Much of the violence has pitted ethnic groups against Kibaki's Kikuyu, long resented for their prominence in politics and the economy.

Kibaki, speaking Friday in Nairobi, urged reconciliation with the opposition. "We must not abandon them because there is no way we can do without them. We need them," he said.