NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya's foreign affairs minister on Monday criticized European Union ambassadors in person for what he called an orchestrated attempt to favor a presidential candidate in Kenya's upcoming elections.
Kenya will hold the election on March 4. One of the top contenders for president is Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces charges before the International Criminal Court related to postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people after Kenya's last presidential election in 2007.
The top U.S. State Department official for Africa, Johnnie Carson, appeared last week to warn Kenyans from voting for Kenyatta. Shortly afterward, France and Switzerland said they would have only essential contact with Kenya's top leadership if Kenyatta wins the presidency.
Foreign Minster Sam Ongeri -- a key ally of Kenyatta -- on Monday summoned EU ambassadors to relay his displeasure over those statements. The U.S. ambassador was not at the meeting but Kenya sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. asking for an explanation of Carson's statement.
"This is a major exercise which is being done in the history of this country and therefore Kenyans must be left to ponder slowly and carefully how they are going to choose their leaders, not be imposed. This is a democratic state ... we least expect any interference at this level by anybody from any quarter and Kenyans must be left to make their choices," Ongeri said.
The remarks made by EU envoys are clearly inflammatory and could have the effect of polarizing the country, said Ongeri, who is Kenyatta's point man for election efforts in the western Kenya region of Kisii.
The EU ambassadors informed the foreign affairs ministry that they rejected allegations of interfering with Kenya's elections, said a statement from the EU. Continued cooperation with the ICC is of vital importance, regardless of who is elected as president, the statement said.
Ongeri said elections will be closely contested and statements warning of consequences of a Kenyatta win could amount to taking sides and even allegations of advance rigging. Ongeri noted that the EU is an accredited observer of Kenya's elections, but he said the statements from member countries put into doubt whether the EU delegation can be counted as impartial.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.