NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta can stay in office for now even though the International Criminal Court (ICC) says he must face trial for directing violence after a disputed 2007 election, the attorney general said on Tuesday.
Githu Muigai said the government would wait to see if Kenyatta, who wants to stand in a presidential election due early next year, succeeded in appealing the ICC ruling before making a final decision on whether he could stay in office.
Later, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told a news conference in The Hague the appeals process could take up to a year.
The cases against Kenyatta and the head of the civil service concern fighting which started after Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of stealing the 2007 presidential election. This sparked attacks against Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe.
Kenyatta, also a Kikuyu, has been indicted along with civil service chief Francis Muthaura for directing a militia to murder and rape ethnic Kalenjins and members of Odinga's Luo tribe in retaliation.
The son of Kenya's founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, has said he is innocent. Muthaura said he would also appeal the ruling.
If the finance minister's legal challenge fails it could plunge East Africa's biggest economy back into political instability before a presidential election which must be held by March next year.
"This confirmation of charges is subject to appeal and the suspects have said they will appeal," Muigai, the attorney general, told a news conference.
"The appeal process is short and expeditious. We will wait until then to advise on what to do."
At least 1,220 people were killed in two months of violence after the 2007 election, some of them hacked to death or burnt alive, in the worst communal violence in Kenya's history.
Former education minister William Ruto, a Kalenjin, and radio presenter Joshua arap Sang must also face trial for crimes against humanity, the Hague-based court ruled on Monday, for their alleged role in targeting Kikuyus.
Ruto, who was suspended on corruption charges but later cleared, said he would appeal and would continue his own bid for the presidency.
Moreno-Ocampo told reporters in The Hague that he would be collecting more evidence against Kenyatta and Ruto for a trial that could last 18 months.
"Some people will be frustrated because this (appeal) will delay the trial. But we respect the rights of the suspects," he said.
Debate on whether Kenyatta should resign or be allowed to run for president is straining the coalition government.
Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo said neither Kenyatta nor Ruto should stand and potentially govern people they are accused of once targeting.
"Of course they should quit. Crime against humanity is no joke," he told Reuters.
The ICC judges said on Monday there was insufficient evidence to act against Henry Kosgey, the former industrialisation minister, and Mohammed Hussein Ali, who was police commissioner at the time of the violence.
Muigai also named a legal team to advise the government on whether it could still challenge the ICC's right to try the Kenyans, even though the country failed in two previous bids to block the cases from being heard in The Hague.
Kenya will also set up a local court to investigate 5,000 cases that are alleged to have taken place during the violence which are not before the ICC.