Negotiations to end Kenya's political crisis reached a critical stage Thursday as the country's president and opposition leader met with former U.N. chief Kofi Annan and other mediators.
Annan had suspended negotiations between the feuding parties on Tuesday, saying the month of talks were "turning around in circles." A day later, however, the two sides offered some concessions, and the mediating diplomats were expected to use the weight of the international community to try press the president and his rival to finally commit to a power-sharing deal.
The dispute, triggered by disagreement over who won the Dec. 27 presidential election, set off street violence that killed more than 1,000 people and eviscerated the East African country's economy.
President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga both claim to have won the election. Local and international observers have said the results were manipulated, making it unclear who won.
In a sign that the sides might be coming closer toward an agreement, Odinga's supporters on Wednesday called off planned protests under pressure from Annan, and Kibaki offered his first public commitment to creating the prime minister's post that his rivals have been demanding.
"I think we are at a very critical state of negotiations and we need to focus on that," Annan said Wednesday.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the head of the African Union and the other chief mediator in the Kenyan talks, has been upbeat.
"Nothing is impossible in this process. We are confident that something can be worked out," Kikwete said Wednesday.
In a statement issued late Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties "to take the necessary steps without delay to reach a solution to the ongoing crisis."
"It is critical that the two sides maintain the positive momentum," he said. "It is also critical that the two leaders exercise their responsibility to the people of Kenya, who continue to suffer amid this volatile situation."
Ban also expressed gratitude to Annan and the panel "for the continuing and tireless facilitation efforts."
In a statement issued Wednesday, Kibaki acknowledged or 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.
Postelection violence has largely subsided in recent weeks _ the latest outburst occurred some 250 kilometers (150 miles) west of Nairobi on Sunday, when a group of youths from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe attempted to mount a road block. Police fatally shot one youth; the others fled.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt, Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Tom Odula in Nairobi and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.