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Kenya's opposition calls off mass protests at Annan's request; negotiations at critical stage

Kenya's opposition calls off mass protests at Annan's request; negotiations at critical stage

Kenya's opposition leader backed off plans for mass protests Wednesday at the request of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is pushing two rivals who both claim to have won a December presidential vote to share power.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga announced after a meeting with Annan that rallies planned for Thursday were "postponed until further notice," saying it was in response to a request from Annan.
The plans for protests had sparked widespread fears of renewed fighting in the East African country. Postelection clashes have already killed 1,000 people and forced 600,000 from their homes, and previous demonstrations have degenerated into violence as police pushed back crowds.
Odinga's Orange Democratic Party had said it would call for street demonstrations if no tangible progress was made toward a power-sharing government by the end of the day Wednesday. Its reversal comes as attempts to mediate appeared on the edge of disintegrating.
Annan suspended monthlong talks between the two political parties on Tuesday, saying he would personally appeal to their leaders to strike a deal because talks were "turning around in circles."
No details on any move toward a deal emerged from the Annan-Odinga meeting. Annan also was meeting separately with President Mwai Kibaki on Wednesday.
International pressure on the two sides has been mounting. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited Kenya earlier this month to urge progress, said Tuesday that U.S. relations with any future Kenyan administration are 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 in a statement, without elaborating.
On Wednesday, the European Union also condemned the lack of progress and threatened to take unspecified action to pressure Kenya's leaders.
"Individuals who obstruct the National Dialogue process or who encourage violence will have to face the consequences," the EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, Louis Michel, said in a statement. "The European Union is determined to take all appropriate measures and all options are being considered."
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current head of the African Union, flew into Nairobi to add to international appeals for a deal. He also is scheduled to meet with Kibaki and Odinga on Wednesday.
Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula criticized the implied threats from foreign powers like the United States, saying the international community is welcome to make suggestions "but not to impose solutions."
Both Kibaki and Odinga claim they won Kenya's Dec. 27 presidential election. Local and international observers have said the results were manipulated, making it unclear who won.
Annan convened talks between the two sides a month ago, but said Tuesday he was suspending them in order "to speed up action," as the negotiating teams "were discussing issues that the parties seemed incapable of solving."
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. Negotiators on both sides said Tuesday that they were committed to continuing the talks and blamed the suspension on intransigence from the other side.
Kenyan papers voiced exasperation Wednesday.
"If violence breaks out and drives this country into civil war ... then the blood of its victims will be in the hands of politicians who made it impossible for Dr. Annan to reunite Kenya," Kenya's independent Daily Nation charged in an editorial.
Postelection violence has largely subsided in recent weeks, but Kenyans are worried about the potential for more turmoil in a country once seen as a beacon of stability in Africa. The ethnic nature of much of the violence _ with members of other tribes clashing with Kibaki's Kikuyu people _ has implications for future unity. And Kenya's economy has struggled to recover from a severe drop in tourist dollars during the high season.
Environmental activist Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel peace laureate, has said she received death threats after publicly criticizing members of Kibaki's party.
On Tuesday, five other women Nobel Peace Laureates condemned the threats and urged authorities to do "everything possible to protect Dr. Maathai and the many other human rights activists who are working to bring peace to the region."
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Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt, Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Tom Odula contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-08-05 18:51 GMT+08:00