Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Protests & threats over Cabinet crisis

NAIROBI - Diplomats, politicians and business lobby groups have increased pressure on President Kibaki and Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga to agree on a power- sharing Cabinet and end the anxiety gripping the country.

Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka addresses the press at KICC yesterday after a government coalition parliamentary group meeting. They supported calls for dissolution of the half Cabinet. Ambassadors from Canada and the European Union said their countries would not deal with the Government, or offer any financial assistance, until "real" power-sharing had been effected. Chief mediator Kofi Annan, celebrating his 70th birthday, sent a message to President Kibaki and Mr Odinga through his spokesman in Nairobi: "Give me a nice birthday present -agree on a Cabinet."

Protests and violence erupted in Nairobi's Kibera slums, as youths blocked roads, stoned motorists and forced schools to close early as they engaged police in running battles. Police shot in the air and used tear gas to disperse the youths who shouted "No Cabinet, no peace." The youths destroyed a section of the railway line linking Nairobi to western Kenya.

In Kisumu, police dispersed groups of youths who were demonstrating in Kondele and Bus stage areas without major incident. The dispute arose from Monday's announcement by both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga, that they had been unable to name the Cabinet as had been promised on Friday due to disagreements over how to share ministries.

Canada, the United States, the EU secretariat in Brussels and business lobby groups urged the two to meet quickly and name the grand coalition Cabinet. The Government is seeking Sh31 billion, mainly from donors and international lenders, to resettle people and deal with effects of the post-election violence, which left more than 1,200 people dead and another 350,000 displaced. US ambassador Michael Ranneberger met Internal Security minister George Saitoti and later had lunch with Mr Odinga at Serena Hotel in Nairobi. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also spoke with both President Kibaki and Mr Odinga on phone.

At the President's Harambee House office, protocol and security was set up but the Head of State never turned up. MPs from the PNU coalition and ODM held separate meetings and came out giving conditions to the other side. On the Government side, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka said they were ready for dissolution of the 17-member half Cabinet and even a fresh General Election should President Kibaki decide to dissolve Parliament. He said the Government was ready even for a reduction of Cabinet positions from the proposed 40 to 20.

Speaking for ODM, the party secretary-general, Prof Anyang' Nyong'o, announced the party had recommended the suspension of formal talks on power-sharing until the Government agrees to give up the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Local Government and Public Service as well as agree to share appointments of permanent secretaries, ambassadors and parastatal bosses.