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Kenyan President Kenyatta must attend trial


The International Criminal Court on Tuesday reversed a ruling that allowed Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta to attend only parts of his trial, saying the African leader "as a general rule must be present" in court.

"Any future requests to be excused from attending parts of his trial will be considered on a case-by-case basis," The Hague-based ICC said in a statement.

Kenyatta's trial on charges of masterminding some of the 2007-8 post-election violence in Kenya that left over 1,000 people dead and several hundred thousand displaced, is set to start on February 5.

Judges on October 18 partially excused Kenyatta in order for him to deal with the aftermath of a Nairobi mall siege in September in which at least 67 people died.

Two weeks later, the court postponed the trial's start date after Kenyatta's lawyers said the attack on the upmarket Westgate mall -- claimed by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents -- triggered a "national and international crisis."

ICC judges on Tuesday ruled that Kenyatta's absence is "only permissible under exceptional circumstances and must be limited to what is strictly necessary."

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

Prosecutors however argued Kenyatta's situation was the same as that of fellow accused and Kenyan Vice President William Ruto, who was instructed last month to be present at his own trial.

Both Kenyatta and Ruto face crimes against humanity charges in separate trials. They were political opponents at the time of the post-poll violence that shattered the east African country's image as a beacon of stability in the region.

Ruto went on trial in September, becoming the highest-ranking serving official to do so before the ICC.

Both men have pledged full cooperation with the court.

The court has been caught up in accusations that it is targeting African leaders, with the African Union calling for immunity for heads of state and asking the UN Security Council to suspend ICC proceedings against Kenya's leaders for a year.

That request was turned down, although Kenya last week at a meeting of ICC member states warned that putting Kenyatta and Ruto on trial could compromise security in the often volatile region.

The country's attorney-general Githu Muigai said Kenya was a "lynchpin" of security in the region warning that the African powerhouse was "not in our humble view a country... the international community should play Russian roulette with."

The United States, Britain and Israel all have close military and intelligence ties with Nairobi.

Kenya plays a major part in regional military efforts to stamp out Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have turned neighbouring Somalia into a major global jihadist hub.