News 2008


Annan seeks parliament backing for Kenya deal


12 Feb, 2008

NAIROBI: Kofi Annan sought support from Kenya's divided parliament on Tuesday for an imminent political de`al to pull the country out of turmoil that has left more than 1,000 people dead.

As Annan's mediation effort entered a third week, the feuding parties inched closer to a settlement of the dispute sparked by President Mwai Kibaki's re-election, with an announcement expected by late Thursday.

The former UN chief was to address a closed-door session of parliament on the outlines of a deal he is seeking from Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who are at odds over who won the presidential election on December 27.

"The National Assembly is willing and ready to play its rightful role in finding a sustainable and lasting peace for our country," speaker Kenneth Marende told lawmakers ahead of Annan's address.

Annan on Monday decided to move the crisis talks to a secret venue outside Nairobi and imposed a complete news blackout as negotiators from both sides headed into a final, difficult round of bargaining.

The goal is to reach "an agreement on the outstanding political issues in the next 48 to 72 hours," said a UN statement issued late Monday.

Annan's mediation is seen as the best hope for an end to the turmoil which has seen Kenyans hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs, burnt in churches where they had sought refuge and driven off their land.

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1,000 people have died in rioting, tribal clashes and police raids since the vote and 300,000 people have lost their homes, shattering Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most stable countries.

Kenyans have been hoping for a breakthrough since Friday when Annan suggested the sides had climbed down from their hardline positions and were ready to negotiate.

Talks resumed on Monday as relative calm appeared to take hold across the country for the first time in weeks. Police reported no incidents overnight in western Kenya, which had been the worst hit by the violence.

In power since 2002, 76-year-old Kibaki was proclaimed the winner of the December election that international observers said was flawed and the opposition claims was rigged.

"The situation in the country is calm," said national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe. "This is due to the change of tune from the politicians."

Speculation about the agreement has centred on a possible power-sharing government in which the opposition was demanding that Odinga, 62, be named prime minister, a post that would have to be created by constitutional amendment.

Kenyan press reports have also said negotiations could yield a raft of reforms that could pave the way to fresh elections in two years.

Annan was expected to ask lawmakers to support the political settlement by quickly adopting the necesssary bills.

The new parliament, which was elected in polls also held on December 27, is almost equally divided between Kibaki's party and its supporters and Odinga's opposition party and its allies.

Members of parliament observed a minute of silence on Tuesday for two opposition party MPs who have been killed in the post-election violence.

Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu, suffered heavily in the first wave of violence at the hands of Odinga's Luo tribe and other ethnic groups, but there have since been numerous revenge attacks.

The violence has tapped into simmering resentment over land, poverty and the dominance of the Kikuyu in Kenyan politics and business since independence from Britain in 1963.

Kenya's world-famous safari resorts and beach hotels have suffered a bruising loss of business while the country's economic upswing, with growth at seven percent, could soon flatten out.