NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya's president told the country's parliament on Tuesday to act to unify all Kenyans in what seemed to be indirect comments about his rift with the prime minister that had raised fears of renewed violence if the leaders' differences went unresolved.
President Mwai Kibaki made the remarks at the opening of a new session of parliament. Hours before the opening he briefly met with Prime Minister Raila Odinga for the first time since their public dispute over the suspension of ministers linked to corruption scandals.
Kibaki's office said the two discussed the coalition government and the government's legislative agenda for the year.
In his speech, Kibaki said that agenda includes proposals to amend the Witness Protection Act seen as important to helping investigations into Kenya's 2007-2008 postelection violence. Already more than 20 witnesses are in hiding or exile for fear of their lives. The International Criminal Court is considering opening an investigation into that violence.
"All Kenyans are looking upon us to champion a uniting agenda. They are looking upon us to leading them as a united and patriotic people of this country," Kibaki told lawmakers during the first sitting of the National Assembly this year.
"Kenyans should trust the leadership of the country and abandon the temptation to look externally for solutions that can easily be found locally," Kibaki said, in apparent reference to calls last week by the prime minister's party for former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to mediate the dispute.
The remarks were Kibaki's first public statements about his disagreement with Odinga, which flared on Feb. 14 when he reversed the prime minister's attempt to suspend the agriculture and education ministers because of multimillion dollar corruption scandals.
The president and Odinga are running a fractious coalition formed after the two signed a power-sharing deal which Annan brokered in February 2008 to end a deadly dispute over the December 2007 presidential poll during which more than 1,000 people were killed.
Until last week's spat, Kibaki and Odinga have had a cordial working relationship and have been seen as the glue holding the coalition together.