News 2008

 

Kenya's political rivals sign deal on new constitution, negotiator says



The Associated Press

Published: February 15, 2008



NAIROBI, Kenya: Kenya's political rivals agreed 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 that the opposition accuses the president of rigging has killed more than 1,000 people and drawn international condemnation. U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday he is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to demand an immediate halt to the bloodshed.

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

He said it was expected to happen within a year but gave no other details of the agreement, which is likely a preliminary step in further negotiations.

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who is mediating the talks, was first to announce that a deal was signed, but gave no details. The talks have been operating under a media blackout, although Annan scheduled a news conference 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 constitutional reform to end decades of abuses by successive governments.

A new constitution could allow for power-sharing or the post of prime minister, the solution opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki are being pressed to adopt.

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 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.

At the United Nations, opposition spokesman Salim Lone hailed Rice's visit, scheduled for Monday, as a sign of growing recognition within and outside the United States that Kenya's crisis is far from over, and that international pressure will be required to ensure the talks succeed.

"We should not be fooled by the current relative calm to believe that peace is around the corner," Lone said. "Already we can see that the government has consistently tried to undermine the negotiations on this core issue and even if Mr. Annan succeeds in forging a settlement, the world will have to be very vigilant in insuring the government implements it."

A statement by the U.S. embassy in Nairobi said that Rice would meet with Kibaki, Odinga and Annan, as well as civil society and business leaders to press for an end to the violence, justice for victims of abuse and a "full return to democracy."

Several countries have threatened unspecified sanctions against hardliners who might derail the negotiations. They also have said they will cut aid, impose travel bans or freeze the assets of anyone suspected of inciting violence.

Kibaki and Odinga, who served as a Cabinet minister in Kibaki's administration for two years before being booted out in December 2005, fell out over a previous attempt at constitutional reform.

Opponents argued Kibaki 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 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.

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."

 

 

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