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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

Under pressure from an exasperated Kofi Annan, Kenya's opposition called off mass protests Wednesday and President Mwai Kibaki offered his first public commitment to creating the prime minister's post his rivals have been demanding.
The twin concessions come amid renewed international diplomacy to end a postelection crisis that has killed more than 1,000 people and eviscerated the East African country's economy. Both sides have been under mounting pressure to share power to end a dispute over who won the Dec. 27 presidential election.
"I think we are at a very critical state of negotiations and we need to focus on that," Annan, the former U.N. chief mediating the crisis, said after winning a pledge from opposition leader Raila Odinga to call off protests. Previous demonstrations have degenerated into violence as police pushed back crowds.
Meanwhile, Kibaki issued a statement publicly acknowledging for the first time that the office of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers would be created. Negotiators for Kibaki and Odinga already had said they agreed in principle to create the posts for the opposition but disagreements remain over just how much power they would carry.
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."
Both Kibaki and Odinga claim they won the presidential election, which returned Kibaki to power for a second five-year term. Local and international observers have said the results were manipulated, making it unclear who won.
Postelection violence has largely subsided in recent weeks _ the latest outburst occured some 250 kilometers (150 miles) west of Nairobi on Sunday, when a group of Kikuyu youths attempted to mount road block. Police fatally shot one youth; the others fled.
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.
On Wednesday, international aid group Save the Children said thousands more children risk being attacked, raped or forced to witness atrocities if peace talks continue to founder and violence surges again.
"Children in Kenya have seen their own mothers and fathers murdered and their houses burnt," said Matt Wingate, Save the Children's emergency specialist. "Some have been raped, many beaten up. All are struggling with the trauma of what they have experienced."
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.
On Wednesday, the European Union also condemned the lack of progress and threatened to take unspecified action to pressure Kenya's leaders.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current head of the African Union, flew into Nairobi and met with Odinga Wednesday.
"Nothing is impossible in this process. We are confident that something can be worked out" Kikwete said in a statement. He was due to meet later Wednesday with Kibaki and Annan.
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."
Kenyan papers said Wednesday leaders had to act responsibly.
"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.
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Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt, Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Tom Odula contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-12 10:10 GMT+08:00