Annan seeks parliament backing for Kenya deal

   

Kofi Annan sought support from Kenya's divided parliament on Tuesday for an imminent political deal to pull the country out of turmoil that has left more than 1,000 people dead.

 

As negotiations brokered by Annan entered a third week, the feuding parties inched closer to a settlement of the dispute sparked by President Mwai Kibaki's re-election, with an announcement expected by late Thursday.

 

The former UN secretary general said the government and the opposition had agreed to set up an independent committee to probe "all aspects" of the December 27 election that the opposition claims was rigged.

 

He also indicated that a political deal could entail the creation of a "grand coalition" government that would bring together Kibaki's governing party and the opposition led by Raila Odinga.

 

"Grand coalitions have served other nations well and these are often formed when a country is in crisis," Annan said.

 

"They come together to try to work out the fundamental issues, make constitutional and other changes required and then eventually organise an election," he said.

 

According to the Kenyan Red Cross, more than 1,000 people have died in rioting, tribal clashes and police raids since the vote and 300,000 people have lost their homes, shattering Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most stable countries.

 

"You must all see yourselves as Kenyans first," Annan told the parliament session which began with a minute of silence for two opposition MPs gunned down in the post-election violence.

 

"I urge you to be pro-active within your own community to foster this vision of one Kenya with a common destiny."

 

Annan on Monday decided to move the crisis talks to a secret venue outside Nairobi and imposed a complete news blackout as negotiators from both sides headed into a final, difficult round of bargaining.

 

The goal is to reach "an agreement on the outstanding political issues in the next 48 to 72 hours," said a UN statement issued late Monday.

 

Annan said in parliament that negotiators would then move on to the fourth and final chapter of the talks, which broaches on land reform and accountability.

 

The new parliament, which was elected in polls also held on December 27, is almost equally divided between Kibaki's party and its supporters and Odinga's opposition party and its allies.

 

But speaker Kenneth Marende pledged parliament's support for Annan's effort to end the turmoil which has seen Kenyans hacked to death by machete-wielding mobs, burnt in churches where they had sought refuge and driven off their land.

 

"The National Assembly is willing and ready to play its rightful role in finding a sustainable and lasting peace for our country," Marende said.

 

Relative calm appeared to take hold across the country for the first time in weeks. Police reported no incidents overnight in western Kenya, which had been the worst hit by the violence.

 

In power since 2002, 76-year-old Kibaki was proclaimed the winner of the December election that international observers said was flawed and the opposition claims was rigged.

 

Speculation about the agreement has centred on a possible power-sharing government in which the opposition was demanding that Odinga, 62, be named prime minister, a post that would have to be created by constitutional amendment.

 

Kenyan press reports have also said negotiations could yield a raft of reforms that could pave the way to fresh elections in two years.

 

An independent panel that could include foreign as well as Kenyan officials is to investigate the elections and release findings later this year.

 

"We agreed that it was important not to sweep matters under the carpet," Annan said. "We need to understand and know what happened during the 2007 presidential election."

 

Kenya's world-famous safari resorts and beach hotels have suffered a bruising loss of business while the country's economic upswing, with growth at seven per cent, could soon flatten out. (AFP)

 
 
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