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Kenyan leaders urged to end stalemate as tension mounts - AFP
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NAIROBI (AFP) — Pressure mounted Thursday on Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and prime minister-designate Raila Odinga to resume coalition talks amid warnings that a delay was fomenting violence.
The pair met last on Sunday and failed to agree on a unity government, a key step in implementing a power-sharing deal following disputed December polls which sparked clashes across the country, killing at least 1,500 people and displacing hundreds of thousands.
Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which suspended talks until Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) agrees to 50-50 sharing of the key portfolios and dissolution of the current cabinet, suggested the creation of an inter-party panel to resolve the issues.
"We have still not received a reply to our letter to the president proposing how to take the process forward. The essential step in the proposal is that a small PNU-ODM group to be established which lays out the essential areas on which there is divergence," ODM spokesman Salim Lone said in a statement.
But Kibaki renewed his call to Odinga to resume dialogue and expressed confidence the stalemate could be resolved, his office said.
Kibaki said the "differences over formation of a grand coalition cabinet were not insurmountable and expressed confidence that the country would overcome all the prevailing challenges," the presidential press service's statement added.
For his part, Odinga told reporters talks could only resume after Kibaki agreed to sharing key cabinet posts as well as top civil service posts, a position the government has rejected.
Kenyan newspapers urged the leaders to end the stalemate that has touched off fresh protests in the capital's slums and western city of Kisumu in the past two days.
"There are legitimate fears that if the impasse is not speedily resolved, Kenya will slide back to the kind of violence unleashed in the wake of the disputed presidential elections," top selling Daily Nation said an editorial.
The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), which in January said the polls were deeply flawed, on Thursday issued a final report and recommended amendments to the country's electoral laws.
The Kenyan crisis erupted after Odinga accused Kibaki of stealing presidential votes in a widely-criticised election.
In addition to the deaths, the violence also choked the east African nation's mainstay tourism and agricultural sectors.
Kenya issued a cholera outbreak alert after the disease killed 60 people in recent weeks, compounding a health nightmare facing hundreds of thousands still living in displacement camps.
Kibaki, Raila Still Miles Apart - EA Standard
The East African Standard (Nairobi)
NEWS11 April 2008
Posted to the web 11 April 2008 Nairobi
President Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga, appeared to drift further apart even as African envoys engaged in shuttle diplomacy to bring the two to talking terms.
And a new bone of contention emerged on Thursday over six key ministries, which ODM says are all headed by ministers from the Mt Kenya region. The chasm between Kibaki and Raila widened when the President insisted that he would not respond to a terse letter ODM wrote to him on April 7, asking for "real" portfolio balance.
The letter also suggested that the President appoints a four-member team from both parties to spearhead the balancing act.
ODM pulled out of the negotiations, insisting that they would not engage further if the President did not reply to the letter.
However, the Government read political mischief in the manner in which ODM resorted to using letters to communicate with President Kibaki.
In an equally terse reply, Government Spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua, the Government said the President was ready to have a one-on-one meeting with Raila to conclude the matter.
"He (Kibaki) has no desire whatsoever to exchange letters. All he wants is to sit with Raila and reach an amicable solution to the impasse," said Mutua.
But unaware of the new development from Harambee House, Raila said he was still waiting for a reply from President Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) to respond to queries on portfolio balance and sharing of political appointments before he would meet the President again.
Kibaki appeared to dig in when he insisted that he would not dissolve the half Cabinet as demanded by the ODM.
The President also declined to accept ODM's proposal to form a four-member committee to discuss the size of the coalition Cabinet.
Raila said the four-member committee was the best solution to resolve the contentious issues standing in the way of a grand coalition.
Besides the size of the Cabinet, the six key ministries in the half Cabinet also appeared to stand in the way of more negotiations, with ODM insisting that there would be no deal until the ministers and PS - all from the Mt Kenya region -- relinquished the posts for redistribution.
The contested ministries are Finance, Energy, Local Government, Internal Security, Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and Roads and Public Works held by Mr Amos Kimunya, Mr Kiraitu Murungi, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, Prof George Saitoti, Ms Martha Karua and Mr John Michuki in that order.
Ministers, PSs from one region
Besides the ministers, ODM claimed the ministries' Permanent Secretaries were from the same region. The PSs are Mr Joseph Kinyua (Finance), Mr Patrick Nyoike (Energy), Mr Cyrus Gituai (Internal Security), Mr Michael Kamau (Roads), Ms Dorothy Angote (Justice) and Mr Solomon Boit (Local Government).
But Angote and Boit are not from the region.
ODM also cited the post of the Head of Public Service, saying Mr Francis Muthaura also comes from the Mt Kenya region.
ODM Secretary-General, Prof Anyang Nyong'o, said the new Cabinet must reflect the diversity of parties and communities.
"If you analyse the contentious ministries of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Local Government, Internal Security and Provincial Administration, Finance, Energy and Roads and Public Works, all are in the hands of MPs from Mt Kenya," Nyong'o said.
Later in the day, President Kibaki returned to his Harambee House office where he remained holed up for several hours meeting, among others, Muthaura and Michuki. There was no communication from him.
On his part, Raila met US Ambassador, Mr Michael Ranneberger, and 21 other ambassadors from the African countries. After the meetings, Raila said ODM had proposed to PNU the formation of the four-member team to discuss how contested ministries should be shared out.
ODM now wants a structured approach in sharing the contested dockets, which they insist must be clustered and shared on an equal basis.
The ODM leader said unless power-sharing was extended to include permanent secretaries, diplomats and chief executives of parastatals, there would be no deal.
At the same time, Raila ruled out a fresh election, saying it could not be held now without changing electoral laws and appointing a new Electoral Commission of Kenya.
The statement came against a background of international pressure that power-sharing must be real.
Canada joined other countries in putting pressure and called on President Kibaki and Raila to exercise good faith in forming the Cabinet.
On Wednesday, the British Foreign Secretary, Mr David Miliband, asked for concessions on powerful ministries.
"There is a small gap that puts a wedge between us. It is about portfolio balance and sharing key Government structures," Raila said. "We do not want to go into a coalition and start grumbling from within. We want issues resolved and before we start serving Kenyans."
At a press conference at Pentagon House, Nyong'o said: "When we talk about portfolio balance, let it reflect the face of Kenya and address ethnic biases without fear or favour."
Tension and violence
Raila, however, remained optimistic that the talks between him and Kibaki could still be salvaged. He said they had been suspended, not stalled.
As Kibaki and Raila continued dithering, the country remained at tenterhooks with reports of fresh destruction reported in Nairobi and Likia in Njoro.
Mobs in Nairobi's Kibera slums continued uprooting the Nairobi-Kisumu railway line, while houses were torched in Likia.
The National Council Churches of Kenya (NCCK) joined in urging Kibaki and Raila to agree to fresh elections within six months rather than hold Kenyans at ransom if they could not agree to share power.
The suspense is threatening to burst into violence and destruction, said the NCCK.
"The media war between PNU and ODM is heightening emotions and is merely a cheap method of holding Kenyans at ransom with the threat of repeat violence," said Secretary-General, Canon Peter Karanja, in Mombasa.
The European Union handed to all political parties the final report of its verdict on the last General election, telling them that it remained unclear who won the presidential vote.
"The presidential elections leave a legacy of uncertainty as to who was actually elected President by the Kenyan people," said the EU report.
Head of Mission, Mr Eric Van Der Linden, handed a copy of the report to PNU, ODM, ODM-Kenya, ECK and the Kriegler Commission that is investigating the disputed presidential elections.
The effect of the stalemate between President Kibaki and Raila was the suspension of the mediation talks co-chaired by Nigerian diplomat, Mr Oluyemi Adeniji.
Two members of the PNU negotiating team told The Standard that the delay and political standoff over the Cabinet had derailed the mediation talks.
"We will only proceed with the Serena talks after a coalition government is in place," said Mbooni MP, Mr Mutula Kilonzo.
Mutula said the impasse had affected quorum as negotiators were attending meetings to unlock the deadlock.
Mutula also added another dimension to the stalemate - it was linked to the Kibaki succession in 2012.
Reports by David Ohito, Abiya Ocholla, Mutinda Mwanzia, Maureen Mudi, Beauttah Omanga, Brian Odera, Cyrus Ombati and Steve Mkawale
Copyright © 2008 The East African Standard. All rights reserved.
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