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Deadlock Deepens in Kenya Power-Sharing Deal

Kenya's opposition has announced that it is suspending talks about the formation of a power-sharing government until the president's party agrees to conditions on how to implement a plan signed by the two sides in February. Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi.

Following a meeting of lawmakers from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, party Secretary-General Anyang Nyong'o read a statement announcing that talks on establishing a coalition cabinet have been suspended until the president's Party of National Unity commits to sharing power equally in the government.

"It is now crystal clear to the country that PNU is extremely reluctant to honor the accord in the first place," said Nyong'o. "In fact by his utterances and deeds since the signing of the accord, President Mwai Kibaki has demonstrated his contempt for and reluctance to forming a grand coalition government as the constitution demands and the people of Kenya expect him to do."

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is set to take up the newly created position of prime minister, Monday accused the president's party of backtracking on commitments regarding the composition of the Cabinet and the extent of power-sharing in government positions below the ministerial level.

The statement also called for the Cabinet ministers who had been appointed before the agreement was signed to step down, and for a reduction in the size of the cabinet from the 40 ministers that had earlier been agreed. The large Cabinet size has been widely criticized in Kenya as a waste of resources.

Following a similar meeting of members of President Kibaki's party, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said the president remains committed to reaching an agreement as soon as possible, and is open to further negotiation on the size and composition of the Cabinet.

"People have accused President Kibaki sometimes of being indecisive," said Musyoka. "I want you to know that you cannot have a more tolerant head of state anywhere in the world. But I think he is now about to take the bull by the horns."

Musyoka also said his side would be open to new elections if the talks do not succeed, and urged foreign diplomats not to take sides in the negotiations. Odinga met earlier in the day with European diplomats.

Meanwhile, police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Nairobi's vast Kibera slum, raising fears that the current dispute could reignite the type of unrest the country experienced following December's disputed elections. Kibera, a stronghold of Odinga, was one of the centers of the post-election violence that killed about 1,200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan mediated a power-sharing agreement between President Kibaki and Odinga in February. But the two sides have been deadlocked recently over the appointment of ministers to the coalition government, with the opposition saying the president's party is unwilling to concede a fair share of powerful ministries.

Both sides say they are still committed to reaching agreement on the Cabinet, but the gap between their positions appears wider than ever. Whatever the outcome of the Cabinet discussions, the episode has raised serious concerns about how well a coalition government will be able to operate, given the distrust that persists between the two sides.