Friday, February 15, 2008

NAIROBI, Kenya — Rival factions in Kenya’s political crisis reportedly agreed yesterday to write a new constitution, a move that could allow for power-sharing as part of a deal aimed at ending weeks of violence in this East African country.

The announcement of an agreement came as President Bush said he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Kenya to demand an immediate halt to bloodshed that has killed more than 1,000 people since the disputed Dec. 27 presidential election.

Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, but opposition groups claimed the results were rigged. The election fight blew up into a broader conflict among Kenya’s many ethnic groups, and international pressure has mounted for the two sides to find a way to work together.

Miss Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer plan to travel Monday to Nairobi, where they will meet with Mr. Kibaki, opposition leader Raila Odinga and civic leaders.

Mr. Bush said Miss Rice will deliver a message to Kenya’s leaders and people: “There must be an immediate halt to violence, there must be justice for the victims of abuse and there must be a full return to democracy.”

He made the announcement during a speech previewing his six-day trip to Africa, which is scheduled to start tomorrow. Mr. Bush’s itinerary does not include a stop in Kenya.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Bush threatened to cancel his Africa trip unless House Democrats continue working on a permanent fix to the nation’s domestic wiretapping rules before they expire at midnight. But House Democrats, who control the chamber, say they would rather let the surveillance law lapse than rush the bill to a vote.

A spokesman for former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who has been mediating in closed talks between the government and opposition, announced the parties signed off on a deal yesterday but offered no details. Mr. Annan scheduled a press conference today, and the talks were recessed until Monday.

A few hours later, government negotiator Mutula Kilonzo said part of the deal was to revise Kenya’s constitution within a year.

An opposition member with close ties to the negotiations confirmed there was a deal on writing a new charter, but he said it was “trivial” because the government had not formally agreed to any changes in the government.

Kenya’s current constitution was drawn up in the lead up to independence from Britain in 1963 and has been revised repeatedly, giving the president sweeping powers. Kenyans have said they want a constitution that would reform how their country is run following decades of abuses by successive governments.

A new constitution could allow for power sharing or a prime minister’s post, the solution Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga have been pressed to adopt as a way to resolve their dispute.

Mr. Odinga, who served as a Cabinet minister in Mr. Kibaki’s administration for two years before being booted out in December 2005, fell out with the president over a previous attempt at constitutional reform. Mr. Odinga had led a drive opposing a draft charter backed by Mr. Kibaki.

Voters rejected the constitution in a 2005 referendum that was lauded as a sign democracy was maturing in Kenya.

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