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Latest update : 2008-02-29

Kenya's rival leaders signed Thursday a power-sharing deal brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan to end a bloody two-month political crisis that has split the nation along ethnic lines.

NAIROBI, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Kenyans moved to put one of
their country's darkest chapters behind them on Friday after the
president and opposition leader agreed to power-sharing aimed at
ending a bloody post-election political crisis.

President Mwai Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga signed the
deal setting up a coalition government on Thursday after a month
of often bitter negotiations punctuated by riots and ethnic
violence around the east African nation.

The two men had come under huge pressure from world powers
and Kenya's 36 million people to find a solution to forestall
more bloodshed and help repair the country's reputation as the
region's business, tourism and transport hub.

As word of the deal spread, overjoyed residents danced, sang
and ululated in the streets, while messages of praise and offers
of help flooded in from overseas.

"The signing of the agreement is a shining example of how
Africans themselves can find peaceful resolution to their
political challenges," said South African President Thabo Mbeki.

South Sudan's leader Salva Kiir said more unrest and
uncertainty could have destabilised the entire region.

"Now we again can recognise our neighbour Kenya," he said.

A U.S. State Department spokesman applauded the deal,
adding: "We want to see this agreement implemented."

He said Washington would be watching carefully and Kenyans
who promoted bloodshed still faced potential U.S. visa bans.

The deal was a major breakthrough for mediator Kofi Annan,
who had suspended stalled negotiations on Tuesday in frustration
and demanded the two leaders end the standoff themselves.

1,000 DEATHS

Kibaki's disputed re-election after the Dec. 27 poll
triggered protests and tribal clashes that killed at least 1,000
people and forced 300,000 more to flee their homes. It also
badly dented east Africa's biggest economy.

Under the deal, a new prime minister's position will be
created for Odinga, who has sought that role since he first
helped elect Kibaki in 2002. He claims the president reneged on
an agreement to give him the job after that vote.

It will also allocate cabinet posts based on each party's
strength in parliament and create two deputy prime ministers'
jobs, one for each side of the coalition. Odinga's Orange
Democratic Movement has the largest number of seats.

Later, there will be a full review of the country's
constitution, a 45-year-old document which many Kenyans have
pushed to change since the 1990s because it awards the president
almost unchecked authority over the affairs of state.

Many Kenyans want a new charter to help resolve deep rifts
over land, ethnicity and wealth that have plagued the nation
since before its independence from Britain in 1963.

Kibaki has ordered parliament to meet next Thursday to pass
a constitutional amendment to push through the changes.

The crisis erupted after Kibaki was sworn in on Dec. 30 and
Odinga claimed the election was rigged. Kibaki said he won
fairly and blamed his rival for instigating violence and unrest
instead of going to court to challenge the result.

Date created : 2008-02-29