Kenya opposition plans new protest

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The Independent Online

Kenya's opposition yesterday accused the government of backing away from plans to share power after a deeply flawed presidential election and called for nationwide protests, raising fears of new violence.

Both sides are engaged in lengthy and often bitter negotiations to end the deadlock over the December 27 vote, which the opposition says was stolen. Widespread fighting that killed more than 1,000 people in the weeks after the election has largely subsided, but this once-stable African country remains on edge.

A power-sharing deal between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga seemed imminent last week, but the breakthrough never came.

After four hours of intense talks yesterday morning, the negotiators "made almost no progress toward reaching an agreement," despite being given the whole weekend to consult on their positions, mediator Kofi Annan said in a statement.

The former UN secretary-general said he suspended the afternoon session to confer directly with Odinga and Kibaki and urge them to resolve their differences.

Annan said the mediation team "has done its work. I'm now asking the party leaders ... to do theirs."

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.

The opposition Orange Democratic Movement, meanwhile, filed notice giving police the required three days' notice for a gathering planned Thursday. Past protests have descended into violence as police forced back crowds.

The party already had threatened mass protests if a deal is not reached by Wednesday, and the filing was a clear sign they believe the talks could falter.

Opposition negotiator William Ruto accused the government side of "changing their mind over sharing power." He declined to offer further details. Government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo denied any change in position.

"This is not correct at all," Kilonzo told The Associated Press, adding: "They thought this was a picnic where they would walk in and take over the government."

Kibaki was declared winner of the presidential vote, 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.

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.