Kenya’s deadlocked political leaders were today urged to work together to end the tribal violence sweeping the country.
President Mwai Kibaki, whose election sparked riots at the weekend, and his main opponent Raila Odinga have spent most of their efforts trading accusations that the other is fuelling the problem.
Mr Odinga says he will not meet with Mr Kibaki unless the latter concedes he lost the presidency, something Mr Kibaki is unlikely to do.
But Western and African leaders have called for them to act together urgently to halt the ethnic unrest that has seen 300 people killed and more than 100,000 flee their homes.
An EU official said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would discuss a proposal to mediate the crisis.
Meanwhile smoke from burning tires and debris rose from Nairobi’s barricaded streets, not just around the city’s huge slums where hundreds of thousands of Mr Odinga’s supporters live, but on main roads leading into suburbs that are home to upper class Kenyans and expatriates.
In the Mathare slum, rival groups of angry men hurled rocks at each other. Black smoke billowed from a burning petrol station, and several charred cars sat along roadside.
The corpse of at least one man lay face down on a muddy path, and a wailing wife pulled her battered husband from the dark waters of the Nairobi River, where he had been dumped and left for dead.
Police pushed back a crowd of several hundred people from the Kibera slum holding branches and white flags symbolising peace. Some burned an effigy of Mr Kibaki and waved placards denouncing him as the devil.
In the coastal resort city of Mombasa, hundreds of young men marched toward the centre in similar protests, but were quickly repulsed by security forces.
After police used tear gas and water cannons to break up crowds trying to march to a planned demonstration in Nairobi, a top official with Mr Odinga’s main opposition party said the protest rally had been cancelled and he called on supporters to go home.
“We are a peaceful people who do not want violence,” William Ruto, a party official told hundreds of supporters through a megaphone on a Nairobi street. “That is why we are peacefully dispersing now.”
Mr Odinga toured Nairobi’s City Mortuary, which was full of piles of bodies of babies, children, young men and women. Some were burned, while others had head wounds. Many did not have visible wounds.
“What we have just seen defies description,” Mr Odinga said after the visit. “We can only describe it as genocide on a grand scale.”
The violence pitting Mr Kibaki’s influential Kikuyu tribe against Mr Odinga’s Luos and other tribes has shaken Kenya’s image as an tourist-friendly oasis of stability in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan.
Kenya’s main newspapers ran front-page banners urging people to “save our beloved country”.
In a bid to help ease the crisis, South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu flew to Nairobi and met Mr Odinga. Afterwards he said Mr Odinga was ready for “the possibility of mediation”.
Mr Tutu gave no details but said he hoped to meet Mr Kibaki as well.
Neighbouring Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni’s office said he had spoken to the two rivals, also trying to end the unrest.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission urged Mr Kibaki to agree to an independent review of the disputed ballot count, saying in a statement: “Kenya will not survive this moment unless our leaders act like statesmen.”
Confusion has surrounded the disputed election. The head of the country’s electoral commission, Samuel Kivuitu, said he was pressured by both sides to announce the results quickly and was not personally certain who had won.