African Union summit opens with Kenya crisis at forefront

( dpa ) - African and world leaders at the African Union (AU) summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa called Thursday for a peaceful end to the political crisis and ethnic violence that has convulsed Kenya since disputed elections last month.

The 10th AU summit opened Thursday with Kenya's crisis expected to dominate discussions among more than 40 African leaders attending, including Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the rival politicians to resolve the conflict.

"Violence continues, threatening to escalate to catastrophic levels. I call upon your excellencies, the leaders of Africa, to encourage and urge the leaders and people of Kenya to calm the violence and resolve their differences through dialogue and respect for the democratic process," Ban said.

The three-day meeting is also set to touch on the conflicts in Darfur and Somalia, and Ban is set to meet Sudanese President Omar Beshir over the much-awaited 26,000 hybrid peacekeeping force, whose deployment, expected for this month, has been delayed.

Odinga, who charges Kibaki rigged the vote, was not invited to the summit.

AU chairman Alpha Oumar Konare has called on the pan-African organization to help solve the quagmire, even as former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan is in the Kenyan capital Nairobi kicking off formal mediation between the two sides.

"If Kenya burns, there will be nothing for tomorrow," Konare said Thursday.

The theme of the 10th summit is industrialization in Africa, but Kenya, seen as an island of stability in a sea of regional turbulence, is likely to dominate the talks.

The conflict has spiralled into bitter ethnic violence that has left more than 800 dead and displaced at least 250,000.

The latest violence came Thursday when a politician belonging to the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party was shot dead.

The leaders of the organization, which is chided for being a talking shop in a continent in dire need of action, are also set to discuss Konare's successor.

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