Annan Attempts Mediation in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Former UN chief Kofi Annan launched formal mediation efforts on Tuesday to end the post-election crisis in Kenya, where the killing of an opposition legislator stoked bloody protests.

About a dozen people were killed in the East African country on Tuesday, bringing the toll to more than 850 since President Mwai Kibaki's disputed Dec. 27 election triggered turmoil that has taken on an ethnic momentum of its own.

Annan, bringing together Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, said he hoped that the immediate political issues could be resolved within four weeks and the broader issues underlying the crisis within a year. Odinga says the vote was rigged.

"To the leaders gathered here today I say that the people want you to take charge of the situation and do whatever possible to halt the downward spiral that is threatening this beautiful and prosperous country," Annan said.

South Africa said it would be disastrous for the continent if the mediation fails. Western donors have urged both sides -- who appear far apart -- to take the talks seriously or risk losing aid.

The crisis has cost Kenya its reputation as a bastion of peace in a turbulent region and dented its previously flourishing economy, East Africa's largest.

Post-election protests have degenerated into cycles of killing between tribes who have never reconciled divisions over land, wealth and power left by British colonial rule and exacerbated by politicians in 44 years of independence.

Kibaki appealed for peace and promised a swift investigation into the "heinous" murder of opposition Orange Democratic Movement, or ODM, legislator Mugabe Were, who was shot dead while driving up to the gate of his home.

Noting that two bullets went into Were's eyes, opposition leader Odinga called it "a planned political assassination." He also warned that Kenya was "drifting into a state of anarchy."

Reuters reporters in the lakeside city of Naivasha said military helicopters divebombed armed mobs, firing what police said were rubber bullets at about 600 Kikuyus -- Kibaki's ethnic group -- brandishing machetes and clubs at Luos, Odinga's tribe.

The incident came as police trucks prepared to evacuate about 300 Luo refugees to safety from the baying crowd. One man was shot dead in Naivasha, in the Rift Valley about an hour's drive north of the capital.

At Were's house in a middle-class suburb near Nairobi's Kibera slum, riot police fired tear gas to disperse mourners and supporters, some of whom had taunted officers. Ethnic fighting broke out in Kibera within hours.

A Reuters witness saw seven corpses. One man lay in agony after being forcibly circumcised, before dying.

Plumes of smoke rose from different parts of the Rift Valley, as Kikuyus hunted down Luos, Luhyas and Kalenjins, residents said, vowing revenge for previous killings of members of their community.

"What you fear is a downward spiral of violence, of attacks and counterattacks, and counter-counterattacks on a tribal and ethnic basis which then becomes very hard to stop," UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters in Brussels.