Kenyan talks at standstill, Annan to meet rivals

Talks to end Kenya’s political crisis reached a standstill on Monday and negotiators from both sides said President Mwai Kibaki and rival Raila Odinga must now make the hard decisions on sharing power themselves.

Negotiating teams met early on Monday to try to finalise agreement on ending post-election turmoil that has left at least 1 000 dead before an opposition deadline to resume street protests expires on Wednesday.

The government has agreed in principle to create a prime minister’s seat demanded by the opposition, but the parties are split on the premier’s powers, sharing of ministries and the possibility of a new election if the coalition collapses.

By early afternoon, both sides said they were unable to agree and had to push the decisions up to their bosses through mediator Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general.

”We have isolated a number of items that require our chairperson’s consultations with our principals,” government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo told reporters.

Opposition negotiator William Ruto said it was time Kibaki and Odinga ”rolled in their influence”.

”On many of the issues that are outstanding, we are unable to agree, so they have been referred to the principals in the hope that they enjoy greater leverage and can be able to thrash out those issues,” Ruto told reporters.

Later in the day, Annan met Odinga in a closed session. It was not immediately clear when Annan was due to meet Kibaki.

The crisis over Kibaki’s disputed re-election, the worst since independence in 1963, has hurt Kenya’s image as a stable democracy and prosperous trade and tourism hub.

It has laid bare rifts over land, wealth and tribes that were born under British colonial rule and since exacerbated by politicians.

In the hope of addressing the long-held grievances and improving Kenya’s institutions, revising Kenya’s 45-year-old Constitution has come to the fore.

Both sides have agreed on the need for changes to the Constitution, which gives immense powers to the president and which analysts say contributes to a divisive winner-take-all mentality at election time.

Annan wants an immediate political settlement before deeper negotiations over the Constitution, with rights groups warning that ethnic militias are regrouping ahead of the renewed protest threat.

Odinga accuses Kibaki of rigging the December 27 poll and wants a powerful premier’s post and a 50-50 split in the Cabinet.

Kibaki says he won fairly and accuses the opposition of instigating riots and ethnic violence instead of following Kenya’s legal avenues to challenge an election. He wants any changes to be made under Kenya’s current Constitution.

Most of Kenya’s 36-million people want a quick end to the two-month-old crisis, which many see as a battle between wealthy political elites being fought at their expense. — Reuters

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