Kenya opposition cancels protest marches

Mass protests by Kenya’s opposition were called off today under pressure from former UN chief Kofi Annan who is trying to pave the way for a permanent deal to end the country’s divisions.

Mass protests by Kenya’s opposition were called off today under pressure from former UN chief Kofi Annan who is trying to pave the way for a permanent deal to end the country’s divisions.

Meanwhile President Mwai Kibaki offered his first public commitment to creating the prime minister’s post his rivals have been demanding.

The twin concessions come amid renewed international diplomacy to end a post-election crisis that has killed more than 1,000 people and wrecked the country’s economy. Both sides have been under mounting pressure to share power to end a dispute over who won the December presidential election.

“I think we are at a very critical state of negotiations and we need to focus on that,” Mr Annan, who is acting as mediator, 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.

Meanwhile, Mr 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 Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga already had said they agreed in principle to create the posts for the opposition but disagreements remain over just how much power they would carry.

Mr Annan suspended month-long talks between the two political parties yesterday, saying he would personally appeal to their leaders to strike a deal because talks were “turning around in circles.”

Both Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga claim they won the presidential election, which returned Mr Kibaki to power for a second five-year term. Local and international observers have said the results were manipulated, making it unclear who won.

Post-election violence has largely subsided in recent weeks – the latest outburst occurred west of Nairobi on Sunday, when a group of Kikuyu youths attempted to mount road block. Police shot one dead and the others fled.

Kenyans are worried about the potential for more turmoil in a country once seen as a beacon of stability in Africa.

Today international aid group Save the Children said thousands more children risk being attacked, raped or forced to witness atrocities if peace talks continue to founder and violence surges again.

“Children in Kenya have seen their own mothers and fathers murdered and their houses burnt,” said Matt Wingate, Save the Children’s emergency specialist. “Some have been raped, many beaten up. All are struggling with the trauma of what they have experienced.”

The European Union also condemned the lack of progress and threatened to take unspecified action to pressure Kenya’s leaders.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current head of the African Union, flew into Nairobi and met Mr Odinga today. He was due to meet later with Mr Kibaki and Mr Annan.

“Nothing is impossible in this process. We are confident that something can be worked out” Mr Kikwete said in a statement.

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