Kenya trials at war crimes court to start in April

THE HAGUE/NAIROBI Mon Jul 9, 2012 1:22pm EDT

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THE HAGUE/NAIROBI (Reuters) - Two Kenyan presidential hopefuls accused of fuelling post-election violence will face trial at the International Criminal Court in April 2013, the court said on Monday, allowing them to run their campaigns ahead of an election in March.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, a former finance minister, and William Ruto, former higher education minister, are among four Kenyans facing charges over bloodshed that followed a disputed 2007 presidential elections.

They deny wrongdoing.

Kenyatta and Ruto are running for president in a poll due to be held in March 2013, and their supporters were concerned that trial dates before then could scupper their campaigns because they would be required to make regular court appearances.

Their own lawyers had proposed dates in March next year for the start of their trial.

"The ruling allows them to sit pretty and campaign without any worry that they could be shepherded to trial. I would say it is a big relief for them," said Adams Oloo, a political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

There was no immediate reaction from the accused or their lawyers.

Kenyatta is the son of Kenya's founding father Jomo Kenyatta, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at half a billion dollars.

He and Ruto are both going up against Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who leads opinion polls in the presidential race, followed by Kenyatta.

The other Kenyans charged are radio presenter Joshua arap Sang and the former head of the civil service, Francis Muthaura.

Their cases relate to the worst inter-community fighting in Kenya's history, which killed at least 1,220 people and drove more than 300,000 from their homes after the 2007 poll.

The March 2013 election will be the first one since then.

(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Alessandra Rizzo)

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