Kenya opposition calls off street protests

Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday called off street protests that had been set to press the government to strike a power-sharing deal to end the country’s post-election crisis.

Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki have come under pressure from at home and abroad to compromise over Kibaki’s disputed re-election in a December 27 vote that sparked ethnic violence that has killed more than 1 000 people and made 300 000 flee their homes.

Fears of further violence grew when Odinga last week announced plans for more nationwide protests on Thursday.

“We ... are committed to the talks. We have postponed until further notice any actions planned for tomorrow [Thursday],” Odinga told reporters after meeting with crisis-talks mediator Kofi Annan, who had asked him to call off the demonstrations.

Exasperated that the talks had deadlocked, the former United Nations chief on Tuesday suspended them and told Odinga and Kibaki that they would have to make the decisions themselves.
He met both on Wednesday.

“Issues that divide the parties are bridgeable ... with political will,” Annan told reporters. “The solution must be found in the mediation room.”

The Daily Nation newspaper said in an editorial: “If violence breaks out and drives the country into war as a result of the failure [of the negotiations], the blood of its victims will be on the hands of the politicians who made it impossible for Dr Annan to reunite Kenya.”

Previous protests have degenerated into bouts of looting and rioting, and provoked a police response that often turned fatal.

Criticism

The unrest happened simultaneously with bouts of ethnic killings that provoked retaliatory attacks and prompted ethnic militias to gather arms and strength, rights groups have said.

The stalled negotiations also prompted criticism from the United States and European Union, in the latest diplomatic pressure to force a rapid resolution to a crisis in an African nation viewed as critical to the continent’s stability.

European Union aid chief Louis Michel said there was no alternative to a political solution to Kenya’s crisis.

But he added: “Individuals who obstruct the national dialogue process or who encourage violence will have to face the consequences. The European Union is determined to take all appropriate measures and all options are being considered.”

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed frustration at the Kenyan leaders’ failure to end their political stand-off and said Washington would take action if a solution was not reached.

Rice, speaking during a trip to China on Tuesday, said: “We will draw our own conclusions about who is responsible for lack of progress and take necessary steps.”

She did not elaborate.

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula rejected Rice’s criticism as an attempt by an outsider to impose a solution.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, in Kenya in his capacity as the African Union chairperson, also made the rounds, trying to push through a deal and avert the demonstrations.

The government has agreed in principle to an opposition demand to create the post of prime minister. But the parties are split on the premier’s powers, the sharing of ministries and the possibility of a new election if the coalition collapses.—Reuters

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