News 2008


Kenya-Election Violence



NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Kenya's political rivals agreed Thursday to write a new constitution _ a move that could allow for power-sharing _ as part of a deal to end weeks of deadly postelection violence, a government negotiator said.

The bloodshed since the Dec. 27 election the opposition accuses the president of stealing has killed more than 1,000 people and drawn international condemnation. U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday he is sending in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to demand an immediate halt to the bloodshed in this once-stable nation.

«The two parties agreed to write a new constitution,» government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo told The Associated Press after two days of secret talks were adjourned until Monday.

«A new constitution is required,» he added, saying that it was expected to happen within a year.

He did not give details of any other aspects of the agreement, which is likely to be a preliminary step in further negotiations.

Kilonzo spoke just hours after a spokesman for former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who is mediating the talks, announced the sides had signed a deal, but gave no details. The talks have been operating under a media blackout, although Annan scheduled a news conference for Friday afternoon.

Kenya's current constitution was drawn up in the lead-up to independence from Britain in 1963 and has been revised repeatedly, giving the president sweeping powers. Kenyans have repeatedly said they want a constitution that would reform how their country is run following decades of abuses by successive governments.

A new constitution could allow for power-sharing or a prime minister's post, the solution opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki have been pressed to adopt as a way to resolve their dispute.

An opposition member with close ties to the negotiations confirmed the deal to write a new constitution, but said it was «trivial» because the government has not yet formally agreed to any changes in the government.

«The talks deadlocked over the discussion of government structure,» said the opposition member who asked that his name not be used because of the media blackout.

Odinga who served as a Cabinet minister in Kibaki's administration for two years before being booted out in December 2005, and Kibaki fell out over a previous attempt at constitutional reform. Odinga had led a drive against a draft constitution Kibaki was backing.

Opponents argue the proposal Kibaki supported ignored agreements hammered out during a constitutional conference designed to check the president, in part by creating a powerful prime minister. Kibaki argued the draft did cut presidential powers.

Voters rejected the constitution in a 2005 referendum that was lauded as a sign democracy was maturing in Kenya. Then came the December presidential vote.

Domestic and international observers have said there was rigging, possibly by both sides, in the presidential vote. The ensuing violence has drawn outrage from around the world, with several countries threatening to cut aid, impose travel bans or freeze the assets of anyone suspected of inciting violence.

Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer plan to travel on Monday to Nairobi, where they will meet Kibaki, Odinga and civic leaders.

Bush said Rice will deliver a message to Kenya's leaders and people: «There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse and there must be a full return to democracy.

He made the announcement during a speech previewing his six-day trip to Africa, which starts Saturday. Bush's schedule does not include a stop in Kenya.

The violence has been shockingly brutal in a country once considered among the most stable in Africa, and the ethnic component to the bloodshed has polarized Kenyans as never before. Much of the fighting has been between rival ethnic groups and much of the anger is aimed at Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, long resented for dominating politics and the economy.

Also Thursday, thousands of mourners gathered for a memorial service for Mugabe Were _ the first of two opposition lawmakers who were gunned down in the weeks after the election. Were was among a slew of opposition members who won seats in the December legislative vote, held at the same time as the presidential election.

«What is needed is a speedy resolution to the political problem being experienced in the country,» Kenneth Marende, an opposition supporter and speaker of the National Assembly, said at the service. «Chest thumbing and arrogance will not resolve the stalemate.

Kenya is expected to set up a truth, justice and reconciliation commission to investigate abuses. On Thursday, the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said «egregious perpetrators» must not be given amnesty.

«Leaders and planners of the types of violations that have taken place in Kenya over recent weeks must never be exempted under any circumstance: to do so would be a travesty of justice,» the group said.