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Violence flares as Kenya talks stall

Latest update : 2008-04-08

Negotiations collapsed between Kenya's opposition Orange Democratic Movement and President Mwai Kibaki for the second time in as many days. Violent protests ensued, with Nairobi police firing teargas to disperse the crowd.

Kenya’s opposition suspended talks with President Mwai Kibaki’s party on Tuesday and police fired teargas to disperse opposition supporters protesting at deepening deadlock over a power-sharing cabinet.

 

Kibaki and his rival Raila Odinga traded blame on Monday after a disagreement over how to share ministries delayed the naming of the cabinet for the second time in two days.

 

“We have resolved that negotiations ... be suspended until (Kibaki’s party) fully recognises the 50/50 power-sharing arrangement and the principle of portfolio balance,” Anyang’ Nyong’o, secretary-general of Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, told a news conference.

 

The protests in Nairobi’s Kibera slum were the biggest since Kibaki and Odinga reached a power-sharing deal in February to end a crisis that killed at least 1,200 people after Kibaki’s disputed re-election in December.

 

“People are burning tyres and shouting. Police are firing teargas and also firing into the air ... I think there are over 100 protesters,” said witness Justine Mokua.

 

The shilling, which had gained ground last week on expectations of a political deal within days, fell to 63.20/40 versus the dollar from Monday’s closing price of 62.35/45. It later recovered to trade at 62.90/63.10.

 

“The market is basically reacting to the fact that we may not be able to have a cabinet in place for the time being,” said Noah Meely, senior treasury manager at Citibank.

 

Kenya, east Africa’s biggest economy and a regional trade, transport hub and tourism hub, suffered heavily from the post-election riots and ethnic violence—the worst turmoil since independence in 1963.

 

 

 

 

TEMPERATURE RISING

 

The tough words from both sides have revived fears for political progress and modest economic recovery in Kenya.

 

“I believe the temperature is rising among Kenyans and so I pray things won’t get out of control,” said John Mwangi, a 50-year-old businessman in Nairobi.

 

Most of the disagreement centres on a handful of ministries that Odinga’s ODM said Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) had promised to give up.

 

Odinga, the country’s prime minister-designate, said he was ready to discuss the cabinet again with Kibaki once there was “clarity” over the disputed ministries. Kibaki said he was ready to conclude the process at the earliest possible opportunity.

 

One post not in dispute is finance, which means current Finance Minister Amos Kimunya is almost certain to keep his job.

 

Duncan Kimani, a senior currency trader at Bank of Africa Kenya Ltd., said he hoped the dispute would not degenerate to the point where a re-run of the election would be needed.

 

“Already the country has suffered enough in terms of tourism and the supply chain being cut off,” he told Reuters. “So a prolonged deadlock would mean that even the 4 or 5 percent growth target we’re looking at might not be achievable.”

 

Wangui Mbatia, who works with families displaced by the post-election bloodshed, said many Kenyans feared both sides were most focused on taking control of lucrative portfolios.

 

“The reason they want them is because there’s money there,” she said. “If there is a corruption-free government it shouldn’t matter who has what. It seems everybody is bent on securing something for themselves and that’s what makes us upset.”

Date created : 2008-04-08

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