NAIROBI Two Kenyan presidential hopefuls indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly inciting post-election violence said on Sunday they would join forces in next year's vote and run on the same ticket.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the Kenya's first president after independence from Britain in 1963, will seek the presidency while former cabinet minister William Ruto hopes to be vice president, according the deal.
The election will be the first under a new constitution and the first since the 2007 poll that led to violence in which more than 1,200 people died. Kenya had previously been a relative haven of peace in a troubled region.
The Hague-based ICC said in July that four prominent Kenyans, including Kenyatta and Ruto, would be tried for their alleged roles in fuelling bloodshed. All deny wrongdoing.
There are fears Kenya could face a political backlash or Western economic sanctions if they disobey the ICC summons.
"We have agreed that God-willing, next year URP and TNA will form the next government," Ruto told thousands of supporters at a rally by his United Republican Party and Kenyatta's The National Alliance party in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru, 140 km northwest of the capital Nairobi.
Eight cabinet ministers and several lawmakers were there.
The ICC set the trials for crimes against humanity for April 2013, a month after presidential elections in east Africa's largest economy.
Ruto and Kenyatta's pairing raises the prospect of having Kenya's sitting president under indictment in the Hague.
Although both have said they will heed the April summons, there is speculation they will not appear. Many western governments had wanted the two men to face the court before the election.
"We have agreed we are uniting on behalf of the people of Kenya. Our alliance is not for fighting anyone. We are uniting for the sake of the people of Kenya," said Kenyatta.
"We have no hatred for anyone. We want to seek votes in a just way. And to our foreign friends, I would like to say this: We are willing to work with all, but we also demand our respect as citizens of this republic."
A Kenyan non-governmental organization known as the International Centre for Peace and Conflict filed suit on Friday at the Kenyan High Court challenging Ruto and Kenyatta's suitability for elective office, given their cases at the Hague. The suit was filed after a similar case against the two was withdrawn.
The indictment of an elected president would put Kenya in situation similar to that of Sudan, where President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is wanted by the ICC to face charges of genocide and other atrocities.
The charges against Kenyatta and Ruto and the two others have shaken a country where the political elite was once seen as almost above the law. There is concern that there may be fresh violence if the presidential hopefuls are blocked from running.
An October opinion poll showed that nearly a quarter of Kenyans expect the presidential vote in March to be marred by post-election violence.
The two will be running in a contest expected to pit them against Prime Minister Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement among others.
(Editing by Anna Willard)