Kenya: Opposition calls off protests, Kibaki yields…

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A day after mediation talks were suspended, the government and opposition Wednesday yielded to mounting international pressure to resolve the two-month-old political deadlock by resuming talks.

This was after former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who is chairing the talks , held a series of separate meetings with the protagonists – President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga – to defuse a gathering storm that pointed to imminent collapse of the talks and snowballing of ethnic hostilities.

After Annan’s shuttle diplomacy, a breakthrough looked likely late afternoon when he announced that President Kibaki had agreed to constitutional amendments to entrench the contentious posts of prime minister and two deputies on a day the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) called off a planned mass protest and civil disobedience rallies.

The rallies were to start Thursday after the mediation appeared to stutter Tuesday.

The developments were greeted with relief by the public, especially the business community that was bracing for another round of bloody confrontations after the mediation talks were suspended Tuesday by the panel of African Eminent Persons.

When suspending the talks, the panel expressed frustrations that the government side was not keen on a speedy resolution of the political impasse that has paralysed the East African nation.

The panel was angry that government side went back on an agreement to create the position of prime minister with executive powers that would be in charge of the government, while the president would be tasked with the affairs of the state.

Annan resolved to engage Kibaki and Odinga “to move the talks forward”. He had succeeded in bridging the differences between the two parties after Kibaki whose representatives were blamed for stalling the mediation process, acceded to the creation of the position of prime minister.

After a meeting with ODM, at which it was resolved that mass action be suspended , opposition leader Odinga who is disputing the re-election of President Kibaki 27 December, Annan said, “I am appealing once again to all concerned and in positions of leadership to be sensitive to the issues that divide.”

“We all know – and nobody has to tell us – the state of affairs in the country. We all know how people have been traumatised. We also all know there is fear in t his country,” the former UN chief said.

He said the issues that had nearly led to the disintegration of the country over the past two months were “bridgeable, but it does require political will, leadership and wisdom to move forward”.

In response, Odinga announced the cancellation of countrywide political rallies. “We are here to consult among ourselves and therefore I would like to announce here now on behalf of our movement that we will postpone until further notice any kind of actions that were intended for tomorrow (Thursday).”

ODM secretary-general said Annan had prevailed on the party to defer civil disobedience pending further consultation with principals.

Annan later met Kibaki after which it was announced that he had yielded to demands for minor constitutional amendment that would create the position of prime minister.

However, the announcement did not specify if the president had agreed to cede some of his executive powers to the premier.


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