In an unexpected turnabout, Kenya's religious leaders have been invited by government and opposition politicians and a civil lobby group to facilitate reform prior to elections this fall.

The government of President Daniel arap Moi and the mainline churches in particular have been at odds for years, with ruling party officials charging that Christian leaders side too closely with the opposition.

Moi initially refused to allow reform discussions, but he changed his mind after the International Monetary Fund suspended a $200 million loan to the country in the wake of violent protests.

"We have seen it as very positive, because nobody ever dreamed it would happen," says Martha Mbugguss, spokesperson for the ecumenical National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).

"There are a lot of logistical things to be dealt with, but all the same it was a very powerful indicator to Kenyans that there is hope."

PRE-ELECTION VIOLENCE: In the past several weeks, a group of mostly Christian religious leaders has met with Moi, 73, several times to discuss setting up a working dialogue on constitutional reform. Moi, who has been in power for 19 years, is coming under increasing criticism by those who suggest that militant members of his ruling Kenyan African National Union (KANU) party are fomenting violence in the coastal region near Mombasa before voting.

In August, KANU members apparently encouraged gunmen from coconut plantations to attack displaced refugees who had gone to seek sanctuary in a Catholic church in Likoni, south of Mombasa. The refugees are mainly from the country's interior and do not support the ruling party. About 40 people were killed in August on Kenya's coast.

The violence has disrupted Kenya's tourism, the country's second-largest ...

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