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Opposition party suspends talks with government

Raila Odinga's party suspends power-sharing talks with the government and hundreds of angry youths set fires in Kibera, to protest delays.

world Updated: Apr 08, 2008 22:32 IST

Kenya's opposition party suspended power-sharing talks with the government on Tuesday and hundreds of angry youths set fires in one of Nairobi's largest slums to protest delays in the country's power-sharing agreement.

But after a series of demands by the opposition and replies by the government, it appeared on late Tuesday that there might be a way for the talks to resume soon.

President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga both claim to have won elections in December and are trying to form a joint government to resolve the crisis. More than 1,000 people were killed in weeks of clashes that followed the disputed election, and 300,000 people were displaced.

Kibaki and Odinga agreed in February to share power, but they have yet to work out exactly how.

On the streets of Nairobi, patience with the slow negotiations is wearing thin.

In the Kibera slum on Tuesday, young supporters of the opposition put up burning barricades and threatened more violence if a government that includes Odinga is not formed quickly. "No Raila, no peace," they chanted.

Odinga told The Associated Press he was not aware of the protests in Kibera, which he represents in Parliament.

"They should hold their horses," Odinga said. "Talks have not collapsed, but have just been adjourned."

"The exchange between the two sides began," Anyang Nyongo, the secretary general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, said but Odinga's party had suspended negotiations and would only resume after Kibaki dissolved the current Cabinet. Nyongo added that his party would insist on equally dividing Cabinet positions and other top government jobs, including ambassadorial postings. The deal Kibaki and Odinga signed in February provides for dividing such posts equally. The Parliament approved the deal last month.

Hours after Nyongo said negotiations had been suspended, lawmakers from Kibaki's Party of National Unity and allied parties apparently acceded to the demand that the Cabinet be dissolved. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka told journalists the party wanted to go the extra mile to ensure a coalition Cabinet is formed soon. Lawmakers said "the president's hands should be completely untied ... so that he can form a Cabinet that will be able to serve this country very well," Musyoka said after the legislators met. Also at issue was the size of the Cabinet, which ballooned to a proposed 40 as negotiations progressed, provoking public anger over the number of high-level jobs being created.

Nyongo said that the Orange Democratic Movement wanted to re-negotiate and reduce the size of the proposed Cabinet to 24. Again, the government appeared to agree.

"Even if the president has to end up with a Cabinet of 20, we shall support him .... so that a perception is not created that the government coalition is a selfish lot," said Musyoka. But in Kibera, demonstrators seemed tired with the back and forth. Angry youths protesting the delay in forming a new government barricaded the main road with tires and set them alight. "We are saying like, we have waited for so long and yet they don't give us what we want, because we voted for change and we are going to get it," said Moses Otieno. "If they can't give us what we want I think we shall go to the streets again." Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, who responded by throwing stones. By Tuesday afternoon, the situation in Kibera was calm.

Earlier, Slovenia, in a statement on behalf of the European Union, urged the rival parties "to maintain the momentum for reconciliation by forming an effective and efficient coalition government as soon as possible that reflects genuine power-sharing between Kenya's parties."

On Monday, Kibaki and Odinga had blamed each other for delaying an agreement.

Odinga, who is the prime minister-designate under the peace deal, said that the crisis "captures the astonishing lengths PNU is willing to go to ensure that it continues to monopolize power." Kibaki, in a news conference soon afterward, said he is "ready and willing" to implement the deal by forming a new Cabinet if only Odinga would "engage constructively" in talks.

Both men claimed victory in the Dec. 27 presidential election. Observers said the vote was so flawed it was impossible to say who won.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also expressed concern over the slow formation of a new government under the deal he brokered.