UPDATE 1-ICC rejects Kenyans' bid to drop killing charges

Fri Mar 9, 2012 8:08pm GMT
 

* Case involves son of Kenya's founder

* Outcome could affect forthcoming presidential election

* Charges include crimes against humanity (Adds analyst, violence victim, background)

By Sara Webb and James Macharia

AMSTERDAM/NAIROBI, March 9 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court on Friday rejected appeals from Kenya's former finance minister and three others to have charges against them dropped relating to the country's 2007 election violence.

The case against the four men, who include Uhuru Kenyatta, a presidential hopeful and son of Kenya's founding president, has shaken the biggest economy in east Africa and may affect the outcome of upcoming elections.

Before the charges, the country's political elite were widely seen as almost above the law.

The ICC accused former finance minister Kenyatta of ordering a militia to murder and rape in an orgy of violence that left at least 1,220 people dead after a disputed 2007 election. He denies the charges.

In January, the court ordered the four men - Kenyatta, former minister William Ruto, Kenyan radio presenter Joshua arap Sang and the head of Kenya's civil service Francis Muthaura - to stand trial for instigating the post-election violence.

The four, who all deny the charges, appealed against the indictment.

Judges Ekaterina Trendafilova and Cuno Tarfusser rejected the appeals on Friday in a majority decision, deciding to put them all on trial for crimes against humanity. Judge Hans-Peter Kaul dissented.

The judges ordered their decision to be forwarded to the ICC Presidency so that a Trial Chamber could be formed. That chamber is expected to be set up by May 9 and will then set a timetable for the trials.

There was no immediate reaction to the loss of the appeal from the four suspects.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IMPACT?

Kenyatta and Ruto have forged a close political alliance ahead of presidential elections which are due to be held by March 2013 at the latest.

Both say they have ambitions to replace President Mwai Kibaki who is barred by law from seeking a third term.

It is not clear which of the two would actually put their name on the ballot paper, but close allies of the two say Kenyatta is likely to be the alliance's flag-bearer.

Insiders and analysts said the two men were likely to continue their joint presidential bid despite the legal ruling.

"That (rejection) is not a surprise, so I don't think they will let this dent their campaign, it will not stop their political work," anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo said.

"They shall respond to this legal setback by intensifying their campaign, and let the legal process takes its course."

Since the charges against them were confirmed, the two men have held several nationwide rallies, and have whipped up support among their ethnic power bases.

Some victims of the 2007 election violence welcomed Friday's ruling. "We hope this time to get justice," said Peter Omondi. (Additional reporting by Antony Gitonga in Naivahsa; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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