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Crisis talks for Kenya coalition

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga
Raila Odinga had said the media law should be reviewed

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has held crisis talks with the leaders of his party amid complaints he is being sidelined by the president.

President Mwai Kibaki on Friday signed a controversial new media law opposed by Mr Odinga - one of several issues dividing the power-sharing partners.

The pair agreed to work together last year to end clashes over disputed polls which left some 1,500 people dead.

Some Kenyans fear political bickering could lead to renewed violence.

The BBC's Anne Mawathe in Nairobi says there are now signs of a split in the coalition government.

Our correspondent says tensions were heightened on Friday when President Kibaki approved the media law, which journalists say will muzzle the press.

Mr Odinga had asked the president to reconsider the measures, after it was bitterly opposed by journalists.

'Respect'

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leaders called on Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki to hold a summit meeting this week and for the joint cabinet to discuss the differences.

Our correspondent says William Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi, James Orengo and Charity Ngilu were among the cabinet members who joined Mr Odinga at Monday's behind-closed-doors meeting in Nairobi.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki
Mwai Kibaki said the new media law would safeguard moral values
As well as the media law, the ODM has also been unhappy with recent decisions involving the constitution of an interim electoral commission - the original was disbanded after the disputed poll - and the appointment of ambassadors.

ODM parliamentary group secretary Ababu Namwamba earlier told Kenya's Standard newspaper: "As partners in this coalition, we are asking for some respect."

Parliament, where the ODM and its allies hold a slim majority, approved the media bill but correspondents say Mr Odinga's party changed its position following representations from journalist groups and media owners.

Later in the week the ODM's full leadership is expected to meet again in the Kenyan capital to discuss the way forward on the National Accord.

That agreement, brokered by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in February 2008, paved the way for the ODM to share power with President Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU).

PNU vice-chairman Noah Wekesa said the latest development would not affect the working relationship between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga, adding that disagreements were not unusual in coalition governments.

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai on Sunday criticised the president for signing the media bill, saying he had turned his back against a media that had elevated him to the presidency.

Kenyans would not surrender basic freedoms for which they had fought for many years, she said.

The Kenyan Communications Amendment Bill gives the authorities the power to raid media offices, tap phones and control broadcast content on grounds of national security.

President Kibaki said on Friday that the bill was crucial for Kenya's economic development and would safeguard moral values.

Correspondents say the former British colony, which won independence in 1963, boasts one of the region's liveliest media scenes.

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