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Kenyan leaders meet to overcome deadlock

Latest update : 2008-04-08

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and would-be prime minister Raila Odinga held crucial talks Sunday to break a deadlock on creating a new coalition government.

Kenya's president and future prime minister met on Sunday to break an impasse over a power-sharing cabinet, the crux of a deal to end the country's post-election crisis which fell apart over the weekend.

President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga met alone after their respective sides disagreed over who would get which ministries, prompting both to say on Saturday that the cabinet would not be named as planned the next day.

Confusion reigned on Sunday morning as Kibaki's side reversed itself and said the cabinet would be named but the opposition said it would not.

But at the appointed time for the cabinet announcement, the two leaders broke off their four-hour meeting for lunch and pledged to return in an hour to resume what sources on both sides said was haggling over the division of ministries.

The cabinet is the cornerstone of a deal brokered in February to end the east African nation's bloodiest political crisis, a post-election spasm of rioting and ethnic slaughter that killed at least 1,200 people and displaced 300,000 more.

Kibaki in early January named a half-cabinet that is still in place, but the opposition rejected his first offer to take the remaining ministries in a unity government.

Government spokesman Mutua said the talks were "proceeding very well", but the opposition was less sanguine.

"Clearly there are major differences that divide us, but we are still hopeful that by the end of the day, Kenyans will be able to rejoice over a new agreement," opposition spokesman Salim Lone said.

Earlier, he had said Odinga had made many concessions on the cabinet already and would make no more.



Kenyans and investors in one of Africa's brightest economies have been watching for the cabinet, and already the shilling currency has rebounded to levels not seen since before the disputed Dec. 27 vote in anticipation of political peace.

The fury over Kibaki's contested victory eroded its image as a stable, prosperous country and hurt its economy, currency and stock market.

The two men are under heavy local and international pressure to break a month-long deadlock over the cabinet. On Thursday they announced they had agreed on how their sides would share 40 ministerial jobs and pledged to name the cabinet on Sunday.

But almost immediately, the two sides began bickering.

The inflated cabinet -- 40 compared with 32 in the previous cabinet and the biggest since independence from Britain in 1963 -- has angered civil society groups and many Kenyans.

They view it as yet another case of the country's political elite enriching themselves from the public coffers.

By some estimates the cabinet will cost about $1 billion a year. That is nearly 5 percent of Kenya's 2006 gross domestic product of $21.2 billion, the latest reported by the World Bank. Some activists have threatened street protests if it goes ahead.

The government has defended it, saying the budget will be divided to make up the difference. But that does not address new salaries for Odinga, his two deputies and eight more ministers -- which are almost double that of a United States senator.

The two former allies split in 2005 after Odinga, then in cabinet, led a move that defeated a Kibaki-backed constitution.

Their next task will be to draft a new one in the next year to address issues of land, power and tribalism that the election crisis revealed. Analysts say will be a tall order given the history between the two men. 

Date created : 2008-04-06