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ICC partially excuses Kenyan president from trial

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The International Criminal Court on Friday partially excused Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta from his upcoming crimes against humanity trial to allow him to fulfil his "demanding" political duties at home.

Kenyatta, who was elected president in March, has long argued that the trial in The Hague would hamper his running of the country.

"The trial chamber conditionally excuses Uhuru Kenyatta from continuous presence at his trial starting November 12," the ICC said in a statement, but insisted he be present for the opening hearing.

Judges said Kenyatta's "excusal is strictly granted to accommodate the demanding functions of his office as president of Kenya, not merely to gratify the dignity of his own occupation of that office."

The court in the Netherlands also insisted that Kenyatta be present when all parties in the case make their closing statements, when victims testify and also, if need be, at sentencing hearings.

Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have both been charged by the ICC for allegedly masterminding a vicious campaign of ethnic violence that left at least 1,100 dead and more than 600,000 homeless after disputed 2007 elections.

Kenyatta faces five counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and forcible transfer for his alleged role in the unrest. He will become the first-ever serving head of state to face the ICC's judges.

Ruto -- whose trial began last month -- was granted a similar application allowing him to be absent at times, but that decision was appealed and he is required to attend all trial sessions until an appeals ruling is made.

Also last month, the ICC, the only independent permanent court to try the world's worst crimes, denied a request by Kenyatta's lawyers to have his trial postponed.

Explaining their decision, judges said Kenyatta's lawyers had been given enough time to prepare.

But the four-day siege in September of Nairobi's upmarket Westgate mall, which left at least 67 dead, renewed the focus on Kenyatta's leadership and his appearance before the ICC.

Ruto was briefly excused from his own trial to help deal with the crisis.

Observers said Kenyatta was now in a much stronger position to argue that he is the guarantor of Kenya's unity and that the country needs his leadership.

Both Kenyatta and Ruto have said they will cooperate with the court, but the president recently slammed the body at an African Union summit as "imperialist and racist".

In Nairobi, one of Kenyatta's political advisors on Friday said the president "will continue to cooperate with the ICC".

"When I talk about cooperation, it means a lot of things," Joshua Kutuny said.

"But I want to say that we will continue to cooperate with them (the ICC) because it is a promise that we made during our (election) campaign."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131018/icc-partially-excuses-kenyan-president-trial-1