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US threatens to bar visits by Kenyan politicians and businessmen linked to election violence
A displaced man leaves on a bus traveling from Kisumu to Siaya, in western Kenya, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008. Over 300,000 people have been displaced in Kenya since violence erupted on Dec. 30, 2007 when elections results were announced. - photo by Associated Press
    NAIROBI, Kenya — Washington is wielding a visa weapon against prominent Kenyans who have allegedly encouraged weeks of postelection bloodshed, threatening to bar politicians and businessmen from visiting the U.S., America’s ambassador said Thursday.
    Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said warnings already made to 10 people on all sides of Kenya’s political divide had ‘‘hit a nerve’’ among the country’s elite and he warned that more people could be targeted over suspicions they have been financing violence.
    ‘‘There is money changing hands,’’ Ranneberger said in an interview with foreign journalists. ‘‘People are paying 4,000 shillings ($60) to burn down a house.’’
    Canada’s ambassador, Ross Hynes, reportedly said Thursday that his country was already barring some Kenyans from entering, although he did not provide any names. Britain, Kenya’s former colonial ruler, said it could take similar steps.
    Long considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies, Kenya has been devastated by strife since a Dec. 27 election that most observers say was rigged.
    More than 1,000 people have been killed and 300,000 driven from their homes in fighting that has often pitted many of the East African country’s myriad ethnic groups against one another. The economy has been gutted.
    Opposition leaders say President Mwai Kibaki stole the presidential vote from rival candidate Raila Odinga and should step down. Kibaki insists he was fairly re-elected and says his opponents should take their case to Kenya’s courts, which are stacked with his supporters.
    The announcement of the U.S. visa threat came as pressure mounted on negotiators from the rival parties to make progress in peace talks mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
    The talks this week ‘‘are moving more slowly than in previous sessions but are moving steadily ahead,’’ the U.N. Information Office said in statement.
    Ranneberger said the American visa threat was aimed mainly at ending bloodshed, but could help ‘‘achieve a political solution.’’
    Since the first warnings went out earlier this week, Kenyan politicians have begun calling the U.S. Embassy wanting to talk about how to end the violence — and find out if they might be next on the list, Ranneberger said.
    The warnings ‘‘hit a nerve, clearly,’’ he said. ‘‘It matters to people. The U.S. relationship to Kenya matters. I think the Kenyan people do see us as uniquely positioned to help.’’
    Ranneberger would not identify the 10 people who received warnings. He said more letters would be sent — and added that no one, not even those at the top of Kenya’s political and business worlds, would be spared if they were tied to the bloodshed.
    The U.S. could target ‘‘anyone from, frankly, a low-level person involved in these sorts of activities to very senior people involved,’’ he said. ‘‘We’ll follow the information to wherever it may lead.’’
    State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Thursday that eight letters had been sent and it was not immediately clear why there was a discrepancy.
    Casey called it a ‘‘clear warning to them that we do not look favorably on what we understand to be their efforts to promote or incite violence’’ after the elections. He would not provide the people’s names.
    Both Kibaki’s government and the opposition welcomed the move, while insisting they had nothing to do with the violence.
    ‘‘I can’t think of one PNU member of Parliament or top official who was involved in or incited violence,’’ said Albert Muiruri, a leading member of Kibaki’s Party of National Unity.
    A spokesman for Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, Ahmed Hashi, said opposition ‘‘leaders condemn anyone who uses violence to push for political agendas.’’
    Kenyan human rights groups, foreign observers and diplomats all say there is ample evidence that both parties have had a hand in inciting and orchestrating violence.
    Thursday saw more African and international efforts to resolve the crisis with a series of delegations urging both sides to reach a deal in Annan’s talks.
    European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel, who met with Kibaki and Odinga on Thursday, urged compromise. ‘‘All sides have to make efforts. There is a price for agreement,’’ he told reporters.
    Odinga struck a rare optimistic note after his session with Michel.
    ‘‘We are saying that we are willing to give and take. Initially our stand was that we won the elections and Mr. Kibaki lost the elections — he should resign, and we should be sworn in — but we have said that we are not static on that point,’’ he told reporters.
    Sporadic clashes were reported in Kenya’s west, scene of some of the worst violence. Police also said an officer accused of killing two demonstrators last month in the western city of Kisumu, would be charged with murder.
    Associated Press writers Michelle Faul, Matti Huuhtanen and Malkhadir M. Muhumed contributed to this report.

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