Kenyan foes both agree to take small steps
President pledges to create a title; mass rally put off
NAIROBI, Kenya - President Mwai Kibaki offered his first public commitment yesterday to creating the prime minister's post his rivals have been demanding, and Kenya's opposition called off mass protests.
Both sides have been under mounting pressure to share power to end a dispute over who actually won the Dec. 27 presidential election. The crisis has left more than 1,000 people dead and eviscerated the East African country's economy.
"I think we are at a very critical state of negotiations and we need to focus on that," Kofi Annan, the former UN chief mediating the crisis, said after winning a pledge from opposition leader Raila Odinga to call off protests.
Previous demonstrations have degenerated into violence as police pushed back crowds.
Yesterday, Kibaki issued a statement publicly acknowledging for the first time that the office of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers would be created.
Negotiators for Kibaki and Odinga already had said they agreed in principle to create the posts for the opposition. Disagreements remain over just how much power the positions would carry.
Annan suspended monthlong talks between the two political parties on Tuesday, saying he would personally appeal to their leaders to strike a deal because talks were "turning around in circles."
Both Kibaki and Odinga contend they won the presidential election, which returned Kibaki to power for a second five-year term. Local and international observers have said the results were manipulated, making it unclear who really won.
Postelection violence has largely subsided in recent weeks, but Kenyans are worried about the potential for more turmoil in a country once seen as a beacon of stability in Africa.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who visited Kenya earlier this month to urge progress, said Tuesday that US relations with any future Kenyan administration are at stake.
"I want to emphasize that the future of our relationship with both sides and their legitimacy hinges on their cooperation to achieve this political solution," Rice said in a statement, without elaborating.
Kenyan newspapers voiced exasperation yesterday with the drawn-out talks.
"If violence breaks out and drives this country into civil war . . . then the blood of its victims will be in the hands of politicians who made it impossible for Dr. Annan to reunite Kenya," Kenya's independent Daily Nation charged in an editorial.
Tanzania's president, Jakaya Kikwete, the current head of the African Union, flew into Nairobi and met with Odinga yesterday.
"Nothing is impossible in this process. We are confident that something can be worked out," Kikwete said in a statement. He was due to meet later yesterday with Kibaki and Annan.