Kenyan Ruling Party, Opposition to Form Joint Government

Kenya's ruling party and opposition have agreed to form a joint government in an effort to end weeks of bloodshed that have engulfed the country since the disputed presidential election, an opposition lawmaker said Friday.

The two sides still were discussing who would lead the government and what roles each party would play, said William Rutto, a lawmaker from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement.

"We have finally agreed there is a problem in the country and neither side can proceed on its own," Rutto told The Associated Press. "We have agreed to form a joint government. Details of that government, its time and how to share it are under discussions."

There was no immediate comment from the government or President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity. But former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who is heading talks aimed at resolving the crisis, was expected to make a statement later Friday.

Word of the power-sharing government came hours after Kibaki said he was "committed" to the negotiations.

Speaking at a prayer meeting in Nairobi, Kibaki said he was "encouraged" by progress in talks and reiterated "my personal support and that of my entire government to this process."

More than 1,000 people have been killed and 300,000 driven from their homes in fighting since the Dec. 27 election that has often pitted many of the East African country's myriad ethnic groups against one another.

Hours before news of the power-sharing agreement broke, around 5,000 people fled a makeshift camp for those displaced by the violence in the western town Kericho, fearing violence ahead of Saturday's funeral for an opposition lawmaker slain last week. Only about 1,000 people were left in the camp, said Red Cross official Susan Onyango.

Kericho's main street, meanwhile, was packed with families hastily piling furniture onto government lorries provided to take them to areas where their ethnic group was predominant.

The slain legislator was killed in what the opposition described as a political assassination, but which police said was a crime of passion by a traffic policeman who believed his girlfriend was involved with the politician. The killing had sparked attacks on the policeman's ethnic group, the Kisii.

International and domestic observers have heavily criticized the vote tallying process and the head of the electoral commission has publicly said he does not know who won the election.

On Thursday, the U.S. added to the international pressure by threatening to bar Kenyan politicians and businessmen alleged to have played a role in the bloodshed from visiting the United States, a move that "hit a nerve," the U.S. ambassador said.

Politicians and businessmen are among those accused of financing or backing the violence.

"People are paying 4,000 shillings ($60) to burn down a house," U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger said in an interview.

Washington sent letters to 10 politicians and businessmen suspected of supporting or inciting violence, Ranneberger said. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the letters were sent to eight people. The discrepancy could not immediately be explained. Both declined to name the targets but Ranneberger said the review also would affect the immediate families of those affected.

Casey said the visa reviews probably would take place over the next few days and were directed at "more regional figures" than top officials from both major political movements. Ranneberger said the U.S. could target top officials if the violence that has devastated the economy and undermined Kenya's democratic credentials continued.

Both Kibaki's government and the opposition welcomed the U.S. decision and insisted they had nothing to do with the violence. But Kenyan human rights groups, foreign observers and diplomats say there is ample evidence that both parties helped incite and orchestrate attacks.