Parties stuck on 'irreducible minimum'

Talks aimed at lifting Kenya out of its month-long political crisis failed again after the opposition leader and PM hopeful Raila Odinga claimed his party had "reached its irreducible minimum" and refused to attend the meeting. (Story: J.Jinty)


Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga refused to meet President Mwai Kibaki for coalition government talks Monday, deepening a stalemate on the naming of a new cabinet.

The two rivals were due to pick up where they left off on Sunday, as they struggled to reach an agreement on the cabinet, a key part of a February 28 deal that curbed weeks of deadly clashes set off by Kibaki's disputed re-election in December.

Kibaki and Odinga, who claims he was robbed of the presidency, have blamed each other for the deadlock that has heightened anxiety among Kenyans still reeling from the post-election violence.

Future prime minister Odinga has accused Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) of taking a hardline position at the talks, started on March 17, on the implementation of the February 28 deal.

Odinga said Monday he recieved a letter from the Kibaki camp insisting that "the constitution grants the president exclusive executive powers to run his country on his own and that his powers supersede the provisions of the (power-sharing) accord."

"There was no point in meeting today to conclude discussions on the cabinet formation and constitution of the government," Odinga told a news conference.

He also said the two sides had been unable to reach an agreemement in six hours of talks on Sunday.

"I indicated that we had reached our irreducible minimum. The response to our magnanimity from the other side has been to retract every agreement that we have finalised," he said.

Kibaki, meanwhile, heaped blame on Odinga for refusing to attend Monday's meeting despite the fact they had agreed to resolve the outstanding issues by then.

"I was ... suprised to recieve a letter this morning with new preconditions and ultimatums which are clearly not envisaged by the National Accord and Reconciliation Act," said Kibaki, who had called off a trip to an India-Africa summit in New Delhi.

Speaking at a news conference he invited Odinga to "engage constructively."

For his part, the ODM leader said he was still committed to talks with Kibaki.

"There is room for resolution of our differences between us. It requires the other side to come out and exhibit magnanimity and cooperation. They must see that the existence of this country is at stake and they need to walk an extra mile to meet us," Odinga said.

Odinga demanded Kibaki dissolve his current cabinet, which he formed shortly after he won the contested elections.

Meanwhile, with thousands still living in displacement camps across the country after being forced from their homes in post-election clashes, aid groups appealed for plastic tents, warning that the current rainy season would worsen conditions.

At least 1,500 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the violence that also choked the east African nation's mainstay tourism and agricultural sectors.

An outbreak of cholera was on Monday reported to have killed five people in a displaced people's camp in Naivasha, 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of the capital.

Meanwhile, church and civil groups have threatened mass action if Kenya's rival leaders fail to reduce the new cabinet to 24 members, arguing the country could ill afford a bloated government.

The ODM and the PNU have agreed to form a 40-member cabinet.

According to independent watchdogs, the average cost of running a ministry in Kenya is around eight billion shillings (130 million dollars) a year.

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