Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki swore in new cabinet members on Thursday as his opposition rival was locked in crisis talks to resolve turmoil sparked by a presidential poll that he claims to have won.
African Union chief John Kufuor led the talks with opposition leader Raila Odinga, along with a clutch of high profile foreign envoys including Washington's top Africa official, Jendayi Frazer, and four former African presidents.
Despite outrage at home and abroad at Kibaki's decision to name a partial new cabinet in the middle of the political crisis, the president went ahead and swore in the 17 new ministers.
None of the cabinet positions were given to members of Odinga's party, although Kibaki has vowed to create a "broad-based" government.
Odinga claims he was robbed of the presidency in a widely-disputed December 27 poll that led to deadly rioting that killed 600 people and displaced a quarter of a million.
An Odinga party official said the talks with Kufuor were focusing on a proposal by the Ghanaian president to set up a "panel of eminent persons" to mediate negotiations between the two political rivals who have not met face-to-face since Kibaki was sworn in on December 30.
As diplomatic activity heightened in Nairobi, Kenyan police fired tear gas to disperse more than 100 female opposition supporters marching towards a church in the capital to hold prayers for peace.
"They had not notified police about the demonstration. We asked them to disperse peacefully, which they refused and we were forced to fire tear gas," said police commander David Kerini.
Kufuor had held several hours of separate talks with Kibaki and Odinga on Wednesday, but officials reported no progress.
The United States, a key Kenya ally and donor, expressed disappointment at Kibaki's decision to go ahead and name his partial cabinet, which is due to meet for a first session next Tuesday.
"Overall, it would have been better if he had not done this," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.
But he welcomed a clarification from Kibaki that his move was only aimed at keeping "the government up and running."
In Brussels, meanwhile, the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Louis Michel, urged Kibaki to "understand the depth of the problem in his country" and accept mediation with Odinga.
During talks with Kufuor on Wednesday, Kibaki had flatly denied that a crisis existed.
Police said late Wednesday that stability had returned to most parts of the country, but isolated clashes were still being reported.
"There are some pockets where there are still attacks," national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told AFP.
Kibaki and Odinga belong to different tribes and the post-election violence took on a specifically ethnic dimension.
The crisis has damaged Kenya's reputation as a relative safe haven in an unstable region of Africa, and hurt economic sectors including tourism and tea.