Protesters clash with police as Kenya's power-sharing dispute rumbles on

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The Independent Online

Protesters in Kenya's largest slum fought police, throwing stones at officers who fired tear gas and live rounds to break up demonstrations yesterday as a political standoff persisted.

Diplomats urged President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga to agree on a coalition cabinet. The US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger, said Kenya's relationship with the United States depends on quick implementation of a power-sharing accord approved by lawmakers last month.

"If the political accord is not implemented, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to work in Kenya," Mr Ranneberger said.

Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga both claim to have won Kenya's disputed December presidential elections, a flawed vote that triggered weeks of unrest which led to the death of more than 1,000 people and uprooted 300,000 from their homes.

The two men agreed in February to share power – but have not worked out exactly how. The agreement calls for cabinet posts to be split equally but both sides have been trying to secure powerful ministries such as internal security and foreign affairs.

"It's a little bit like kindergarten. Everyone's saying, 'Me! Me! Me!"' Mr Ranneberger said yesterday.

The ambassador, who met both leaders on Tuesday, was optimistic that a deal could happen within a week. "There is no crisis. This is a time for the Kenyan people to remain calm."

A government spokesman declined to comment but a spokesman for Mr Odinga, Salim Lone, said he was encouraged by the ambassador's optimism but said "we have no indication" it will happen so soon.

"Clearly, the United States government recognises that this impasse could affect peace and stability in our country," Mr Lone told The Associated Press.

Residents in Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum expressed their impatience by setting fire to tyres on Tuesday, and throwing stones and vandalising a railway line yesterday.

Some said that they were protesting against the political standoff but one man, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said a slum gang was trying to extort protection money from the railway company.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said "all sides must be prepared to make concessions... including President Kibaki's supporters ceding some powerful portfolios."

The African Union also called on Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga to quickly form a coalition government, saying in a statement that the delay "is also of concern to the rest of the region".