Wednesday, February 27, 2008

People's President calls off Thursday's mass protests

The Orange Democratic Movement has called off rallies slated for Thursday which aimed at pressurising the government for a speedy resolution of the political impasse.

The ODM postponed the countrywide rallies, which called for the re-opening of Parliament, so that it can pass laws in support of the resolutions of the Kofi Annan led mediation talks. ODM leader and People's President Raila Odinga announced the rescheduling of the rallies following a request by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan so that not to jeopardise the talks. "I would like to announce now on behalf of the movement the postponement until further notice any kind of action intended for tomorrow," Raila said at Pentagon House in Nairobi. Speaking after a meeting with Annan and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, Raila who was flanked by Pentagon members Musalia Mudavadi, Najib Balala and Charity Ngilu said ODM was committed to the negotiations and will ensure it succeeds. Annan appealed to Raila and ODM not to proceed with the mass action.

The chief mediator said the National Dialogue and Reconciliation was at a critical stage of negotiations and that solutions to the crisis must be reached at the negotiation table. The rallies had raised fears countrywide that they could result in fresh violence and lead to deaths and destruction of property. The party, which enjoys a majority in Parliament, and whose pollsters have rated as most popular in the country, had given President Kibaki seven days from last Wednesday to convene Parliament to discuss and pass laws to back recommendations of the Annan talks for smooth implementation. The rallies were also meant to protest what party secretary general Anyang Nyong'o termed as slow pace of the month old talks and the party added it had notified police as required that it will be holding them.

The party has accused rival PNU of undermining the talks, often changing goal posts, lack of seriousness and buying time as it consolidated its leadership. PNU which has since denied being a stumbling block in the negotiations condemned the planned demonstrations. Previous mass protests by ODM supporters over the disputed last year's presidential election results were outlawed by police, who lobbed tear-gas canisters at the defiant demonstrators, shot at, injured and killed some of them. Mkapa called for patience as PNU and ODM negotiators looked for a solution to the crisis that has left more than 1,000 people killed and 300,000 displaced.

Annan had set a deadline of 15 days since January 29 for ODM and PNU negotiators to agree on short term solutions to crisis. Disagreements between the negotiators and hardline positions have however hampered the talks success as at a time when the teams were discussing how to resolve the disputed last year's presidential election results. The teams are divided on the creation of a Prime Minister position, the holder's functions and powers.

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