Odinga Rejects Bilateral Negotiations

ReutersKenyans following a Red Cross truck carrying food to a distribution center in Nairobi's Kibera slums on Tuesday.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday rejected bilateral talks with President Mwai Kibaki, dimming hopes for a breakthrough to end turmoil that has led to almost 500 deaths.

Kibaki had invited Odinga to talks Friday, but the opposition leader says he will only attend negotiations mediated by African Union Chairman John Kufuor, who is expected in Nairobi later Tuesday.

Kibaki did not invite Kufuor to the Friday talks and officials say he will remain in Nairobi for little more than 24 hours.

"We will not attend the talks on Friday. They are a sideshow," Odinga told a news conference.

Odinga called off nationwide protests to allow time for mediation to work, but says they will resume if it fails.

He says police have killed hundreds during protests.

As the two sides squabbled, to the dismay of many ordinary Kenyans, Finance Minister Amos Kimunya said he estimated the turmoil could have cost eastern Africa's biggest economy around $1 billion.

One of the worst crises since Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963 has also badly hit a swathe of central and east African countries dependent on Mombasa port on the Indian Ocean.

Odinga had looked on course to win the election until Kibaki, 76, was handed a narrow victory. Both sides alleged widespread rigging and international observers say the poll fell short of democratic standards.

U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed Kufuor's visit to Nairobi and urged both sides to enter the talks in good faith.

"I condemn the use of violence as a political tool and appeal to both sides to engage in peaceful dialogue aimed at finding a lasting political solution," Bush said in a statement.