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ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS

Kenyan opposition leader makes new demand for electoral reform talks

Supporters of the opposition Azimio coalition shout slogans during a nationwide protest in Nairobi, Kenya, 20 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Daniel Irungu)

Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday called for parties outside Parliament to be involved in talks on electoral reform and the high cost of living, at odds with President William Ruto's plan for negotiations to be held only within Parliament.

Odinga warned of fresh protests if the government did not take demands of the opposition seriously.

On Sunday, Odinga agreed to the talks proposed by Ruto after the president asked him to halt the protests, which also included claims of fraud in last August’s presidential elections. Thousands took part in three opposition marches over the past two weeks, all of which turned violent.

Foreign observers, including the US Embassy in Kenya, joined local leaders in welcoming the talks to prevent further disruption in east Africa’s largest economy.

Odinga wants talks similar to those that ended post-election violence in 2008, and ushered in a national unity government.

“To this end, the coalition proposes a team drawn from its ranks both in Parliament and outside [Parliament],” he said.

On Monday, Ruto had asked senior legislators from his coalition to give top priority to the opposition’s grievances.

During a visit to Kigali on Tuesday, Ruto reiterated his position for the talks to be held within Parliament “in a bipartisan manner, and that is the offer made to the opposition”. Ruto spoke at a news conference, alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

At his news conference, Odinga said that demonstrations could resume if there was no progress to the opposition’s demands, which also include an audit of the elections.

“We shall go back to the people at the earliest sign of lack of seriousness by the other side,” he said.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Additional reporting by Philbert Girinema in Kigali; Editing by Anait Miridzhanian and Leslie Adler.)

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