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Kenyan negotiators try to rescue talks amid looming threat of mass rallies by opposition

Kenyan negotiators try to rescue talks amid looming threat of mass rallies by opposition

The government urged Kenyans to reject opposition calls for nationwide protests Tuesday as the United States added to weeks of international pressure on the two sides to share power and end the deadly postelection crisis.
Weeks of negotiations have failed to resolve the differences between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Odinga vowed to resume protests Thursday because of the deadlock. Both men have come under pressure to compromise over Kibaki's disputed re-election, which unleashed bloodshed that killed more than 1,000 people.
Previous protests have turned violent, with dozens killed as police forced back the crowds.
"Mass action has meant mass destruction for the last two months," said Abdikadir Hussien, a lawmaker and member of Kibaki's party. "We don't wish to go back to mass destruction. We want to move forward."
Kibaki was declared winner of the Dec. 27 election, giving him a second five-year term, after Odinga's lead evaporated overnight. International and local election monitors have said the results of the vote were manipulated, making it unclear who would have won. The conflict has tarnished the reputation of this once-stable nation.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement saying there is "no excuse for any further delay."
"There can also be no excuse for violence, and those responsible must be held accountable," she said.
Rice also issued a veiled threat, saying the U.S. relationship with any future Kenyan political leadership is at stake. "I want to emphasize that the future of our relationship with both sides and their legitimacy hinges on their cooperation to achieve this political solution," Rice said.
The head of mediation efforts, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, said almost no progress had been made in the talks. "I had to conclude that they were not capable of resolving the outstanding issues," he said in a statement late Monday. Annan said the mediation team "has done its work. I'm now asking the party leaders ... to do theirs."
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current head of the African Union, was scheduled to arrive in the Kenyan capital later Tuesday. Kikwete is visiting to "give support to the mediation process," said his spokesman Premy Kibanga. He said the Tanzanian president will meet with Kibaki, Odinga and Annan.
Negotiators for Kibaki and Odinga have agreed in principle to create a new prime minister's post for the opposition, but sticking points remain over just how much power such a post would carry.
Still, government officials maintained that they continued to inch closer to a deal.
"We've agreed on some issues," Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said after a morning negotiating session, declining to give details. "The more we talk the more we get closer to agreeing," he said.
A source close to the negotiations, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said that Annan believed that if there was genuine political will a resolution could have been reached a week or two ago.
Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, meanwhile, filed notice Monday giving police the required three days' notice for a gathering planned Thursday.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said police had not yet decided whether to allow the demonstration.
"We are evaluating the proposal on its on merit," he said. "Each application is evaluated according to its merits and demerits... We are yet to decide."
The party had already threatened mass protests if a deal is not reached by Wednesday, and Monday's filing was a clear sign its leaders believe the talks could falter.
Much of the postelection violence has been ethnic, between supporters of Kibaki _ a Kikuyu _ and western groups who rally to opposition leader Odinga _ a Luo.
Throughout the talks, low-level unrest has continued. Over the weekend, police said eight houses were burning in a western village in an ethnically motivated attack.
On Monday, police in the western town of Kitale arrested more than 200 youths accused of training to form a militia to protect ethnic groups seen as backing Kibaki in the opposition-dominated west.
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Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Heidi Vogt and Tom Odula contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-05-16 21:04 GMT+08:00