Kenya opposition leader cancels rallies

( AP ) - Kenya - Kenya's opposition leader on Monday canceled planned nationwide protest rallies amid fears of new bloodshed, saying he wanted to give mediation a chance to resolve the election dispute that sparked the violence that has killed nearly 500 people.

Raila Odinga made the announcement after meeting with U.S. envoy Jendayi Frazer and after the government warned the proposed Tuesday demonstrations were illegal and could provoke more bloodletting.

Odinga said he made the decision in anticipation of mediation by Ghana's President John Kufuor, the current chairman of the African Union, who was expected to arrive by Tuesday.

"We want the mediation to take place in a peaceful environment, that is why the rallies have been canceled," he said.

Odinga has said he is willing to discuss sharing power with President Mwai Kibaki, who was declared re-elected in Dec. 27 vote that observers said included flawed tallies and which sparked a week of riots and ethnic clashes. The violence has damaged Kenya's image as a stable democracy and an attraction for millions of tourists in a region rent by wars, uprisings and civil unrest.

A statement Monday from the Ministry of Special Programs put the death toll at 486 with some 255,000 people displaced from their homes. The toll was compiled by a special committee of humanitarian services set up by the government which extensively toured areas most affected by riots and protests.

In calling Sunday for rallies, Odinga advised supporters to wear white arm bands to emphasize their peaceful intent and said any bloodshed would be the government's responsibility.

Attempts to hold opposition rallies last week were blocked by police who fired tear gas, water cannons and live bullets over people's heads. Human rights groups accused police of excessive force and unjustified killings in the crisis, but police Commissioner Hussein Ali insisted Sunday that "We have not shot anyone."

For Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat on Africa, Monday was the last day of a three-day mission in which she has won an offer from Kibaki to form a coalition government and a concession from Odinga that he would negotiate without insisting that Kibaki first resign.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have been urging Kibaki and Odinga to negotiate. The East African nation is considered an ally in the fight against terrorism.

Meanwhile, thousands of tourists have canceled vacations at the beginning of the high season.

"Hotels have been projecting an occupancy of 80-90 percent of capacity. But today, as we speak, that has dropped down to less than 40 percent. That's a huge loss for the economy," Mohammed Hersi, general manager of Whitesands Hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa, told AP Television News.

Schools were to reopen after the holidays on Monday, but the government postponed that for a week. Many are being used by refugees.

In Mombasa on Monday, police fired tear gas to scatter a few dozen protesters who gathered in the center of the tourist city yelling "No Raila, no peace!"

The level of violence eased over the weekend, though ethnic attacks continued, pitting Odinga's Luo and other tribes against Kibaki's Kikuyu people, the largest among Kenya's 42 tribes.

Nearly 1,000 Luos were chased Sunday from their homes in one small town, Limuru, 30 miles west of Nairobi, the capital. Some with furniture and bundles of clothing, others with nothing, they huddled around the compound of the local police station.

George Otieno, a 30-year-old panel beater, said about 100 men armed with machetes, hammers and sticks attacked his home and smashed his head with a hammer.

"They said, 'You have to go back to your place,'" meaning the Luo's native lands in western Kenya, said Otieno, whose head was bandaged and shirt marked with dried blood.

About a mile away, more than 500 Kikuyu refugees were at a Red Cross compound, forced from their homes in the remote Western Province that is a Luo stronghold. Thousands of Kikuyus are fleeing western Kenya under armed police escort.

Francis Waweru said he had arrived three days ago with his wife and four children, fleeing a mob of hundreds who torched his shop and home in Timboroa. He showed a leg wound where he said he was shot with a bow and arrow.

"They said, 'No Raila, no peace,'" Waweru said.

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