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Obama calls for peaceful Kenya vote

NAIROBI — Wading into the politics of his father’s homeland, President Obama urged Kenya on Tuesday to reject violence in next month’s election, adding the voice of America’s first black president to those hoping the country can avoid the bloodshed that stained its last vote.

Obama released the rare country-specific message in a YouTube video in which he used Swahili greetings — the common language in Kenya — to open and close his message. He urged Kenyans to reject intimidation and violence, to allow a free and fair vote, and to resolve any disputes ‘‘in the courts, not in the streets.’’

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‘‘This is a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of tearing apart. If you do, you can show the world that you are not just a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud nation,’’ said Obama, who has several relatives in the country, including half-siblings and a step-grandmother.

Kenya goes to the polls on March 4 to vote for president and other offices. It is the first national election since the 2007 presidential vote devolved into nationwide violence that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced some 600,000.

Obama’s message is likely to be well received by most ­Kenyans, said John Githongo, who resigned as adviser on ethics and governance to ­Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, and then exposed hundreds of millions of dollars in government corruption.

‘‘To many people who respect him and love him, as somebody who is the son of our soil, to say something like that is something that is much appreciated by Kenyans,’’ Githongo said. ‘‘Of course there are those who will call it interference.’’

Obama visited Kenya as a US senator but did not visit during his first term as president, a fact that has disappointed many Kenyans.

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