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Tensions Threaten Kenya's Fragile Coalition Government

Kenya's fragile eight-month-old coalition government is in deep crisis amid accusations that President Mwai Kibaki is trying to sideline and undermine the authority of the Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Months of tension between the two leaders peaked last Friday after Mr. Kibaki signed a controversial media bill into law despite opposition from the prime minister.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is said to be in crisis talks with key leaders in his Orange Democratic Movement political party to assess whether he and the ODM, as the party is widely known, are being deliberately sidelined by President Kibaki and his Party of National Unity or PNU.

High-ranking ODM officials have publicly complained about several decisions announced by Mr. Kibaki and his allies in government in recent weeks. ODM says the decisions were made unilaterally and have had the perceived effect of diminishing the role of the prime minister in the coalition government.

One such decision involved the appointment of a 38-member transition team at Kenya's discredited and recently-disbanded electoral commission.

ODM officials say they were shocked to learn that the head of Kenya's Civil Service office and presidential ally, Francis Muthaura, had named several electoral commission employees who oversaw Kenya's disputed December 27 presidential poll to be on the transition team.

It was the commission's announcement declaring incumbent Mwai Kibaki the winner over Raila Odinga that triggered nearly two months of unprecedented violence and tit-for-tat ethnic fighting across the country.

To end the blood-letting, the two political rivals agreed to a peace deal mediated by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, and in April announced the details of a power-sharing government that included the creation of a prime minister's post.

Nairobi-based political analyst Barrack Muluka says even at that time he and other analysts observed troubling moves by President Kibaki to protect his power base.

"President Kibaki went on to retain an office in government, which seems to be parallel to that of the prime minister - that is the office of the head of the civil service, who many times has been seen to be working on behalf of the president," he said.

The growing rift between ODM and PNU reached a crisis point Friday when President Kibaki signed into law a media bill that has been condemned by journalists and human rights groups as a move to muzzle the media.

The law, if implemented, gives the government broad powers, including the right to raid media offices, wiretap journalists and control broadcast content and restrict licenses.

Prime Minister Odinga, who vehemently opposed the bill, says he had been given assurances by President Kibaki that it would not be signed into law. One Kenyan newspaper described the president's unilateral action as a slap in the face for Mr. Odinga.

ODM officials say despite the current crisis, they are not about to pull out of the coalition or call for its dissolution. But analysts say they fear the renewed political bickering could lead to more violence and instability in Kenya.