ICC postpones trial of Kenya's Kenyatta to July

The International Criminal Court on Thursday postponed the trial of Kenya presidential election frontrunner Uhuru Kenyatta's trial on charges of crimes against humanity until July 9.

It said "serious issues" may not be resolved before the initial April 11 start date of the trial over Kenyatta's alleged role in deadly violence that followed the 2007 elections in Kenya.

Lawyers for Kenyatta and his co-accused, civil servant Francis Muthaura, asked the court last month to postpone the cases and send it back to the court's pre-trial chamber for a review after a key prosecution witness withdrew a statement, casting doubts on the strength of the prosecution's case.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said late last month she did not object to the cases being postponed and suggested August as a possible start date.

Judges on Thursday said they decided "to grant the defence teams' requests, to which the prosecutor did not oppose, and to postpone the opening of the trial, setting a new date provisionally for July 9, 2013."

The defence's submissions "raise very serious issues that must be resolved before the trial can proceed," the judges said.

In a submission filed on February 5, Kenyatta's lawyers said a statement by the so-called "prosecution witness 4" contained "key contradictions" in regards to a meeting attended by Kenyatta and Muthaura in early 2008 where Kenyatta allegedly directed post poll violence.

Kenyatta, one of Africa's richest and most powerful men, is currently in the lead after Monday's polls in the east African country.

But accusations of vote-rigging and complaints about the counting process -- one of the causes of the 2007-2008 violence -- have thrown this week's election into disarray.

The dispute over the counting process in 2007 erupted into weeks of deadly violence that left more than 1,100 people dead and prompted the ICC prosecutor to open a probe.

Both Kenyatta, 51 and his running mate in Monday's election, William Ruto, 46, face crimes against humanity charges including orchestrating murder, forcible transfer and persecution in the poll's aftermath.

Kenyatta faced five charges including murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts, while Ruto faced three of murder, deportation and persecution.

Former ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo opened a probe in March 2010 and a year later the court summoned six Kenyans, including ex-minister Ruto and Kenyatta, whom prosecutors accused of masterminding the unrest.

The case against two other accused was subsequently dropped.

ICC judges confirmed last year that there was sufficient evidence to bring the remaining four -- Kenyatta, Ruto, Muthaura and radio boss Joshua arap Sang -- to trial for crimes against humanity.

The court divided them into two groups, according to their political allegiances at the time of the unrest.

Kenyatta and Muthaura, who supported President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU), while Ruto and Sang, 37, backed Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

In a surprise twist however, Kenyatta and Ruto, announced in December they would ally as running mates.

Lawyers for Ruto and Sang, have also filed a request to have their case postponed from its initial start date of April 10.

A decision "will be issued in due course," the ICC judges said.