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Kenya Political Negotiations Resume


Negotiations aimed at ending a political deadlock in Kenya have resumed after a four-day pause. While both the government and opposition continue to express optimism that the talks will succeed, there has as yet been little indication of a political compromise acceptable to both sides. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

The issue of power-sharing is at the center of the current discussions. The negotiating teams agreed on Tuesday to form a committee to explore possible coalition arrangements.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims the government rigged December's presidential election, has called for the creation of an office of Prime Minister, along with a 50-50 power-sharing government that would revise Kenya's constitution and organize new elections within two years.

But while the government has said it will allow some opposition representation in the cabinet, it is unenthusiastic about the level of power-sharing proposed by Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement. Information Minister Samuel Poghosio says creating the post of prime minister would be unconstitutional.

"That is the position packaged by the opposition side," Poghosio said. "That would be the shopping list that ODM has. It has to be processed by the other side. And the other side has said whatever you do should be done within our constitution. And our constitution unfortunately did not foresee the office of prime minister. The assumption was that a problem would be solved only by power-sharing. And that's not the only way to solve the problem."

Odinga's team argues that the constitution should be amended to allow such changes.

A top member of the Orange Democratic Movement, Charity Ngilu, says the negotiations, mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have been hampered by a failure to acknowledge the urgency of the crisis by President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity, or PNU.

"Our team who are sitting in the Kofi Annan mediation are saying that it's progressing well," Ngilu said. "Only they're saying that the PNU do not seem to have understood the magnitude of the problem."

Mr. Annan met with President Kibaki on Tuesday to discuss the negotiations, following a similar meeting between Mr. Annan and Odinga on Monday.

Also on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a one-day visit to Kenya, urged the two sides to reach a power-sharing agreement, prompting Kenyan government officials, including the foreign minister, to stress that political solutions should not be imposed from outside.

So far, the two sides have agreed to review the constitution and to take steps to address the humanitarian crisis in the country. Political violence, much of it along ethnic lines, has killed an estimated 1,000 people and driven some 600,000 from their homes since the election.

Many fear renewed unrest if the Annan-led negotiation fail to secure an agreement.

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