Kenyan politician uses the dock to give stump speech

Nairobi audience hears Kenyatta rail against prosecutors in The Hague

Eldoret

The dock at the International Criminal Court in The Hague was hijacked this week by Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister to stump for the presidency of the East African country.

Accused of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in masterminding the violence that followed Kenya's last election, Uhuru Kenyatta sought in pre-trial hearings to blame his main political rival and left his lawyers to deride the prosecution's case as "gossip" and "hearsay".

The scion of the country's founding family said the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga – who has not been called to the ICC – was "politically responsible" for the wave of killings that followed the 2007 poll because he incited ethnic divisions by claiming the elections had been stolen. The two men will be among the favourites at a presidential vote expected next year – unless Mr Kenyatta is on trial in the Netherlands.

The credibility of the ICC's controversial chief prosecutor also hangs on the outcome of pre-trial hearings which concluded yesterday against six high-profile suspects, and interest is huge in Kenya where 1,500 people died in the aftermath of the contested election. Luis Moreno Ocampo must now wait until December to discover whether he has convinced judges he has enough evidence to warrant a full trial.

In the past nine days, the prosecutor has accused Mr Kenyatta and two fellow suspects of recruiting and deploying a feared criminal gang to launch attacks on opposition supporters, affording the gang police protection.

Defence lawyers have sought to undermine the credibility of key witnesses, whom they accuse of selling hearsay to credulous outside investigators. Three suspects from the opposing political camp have already faced the pre-trial chamber.

Mr Kenyatta, accused by witnesses of holding several meetings with leaders of the criminal Mungiki ethnic gang, denied any involvement and portrayed himself as a "peacemaker" seeking to contain the chaos.

Playing to the television audience back home in Kenya, where his supporters have accused the ICC of unfairly targeting ethnic Kikuyu and Kalenjin leaders, he implicated Mr Odinga – the champion of the Luo tribe.

"I will not say [Mr Odinga] was criminally responsible, because I have no evidence of him supplying arms," said Mr Kenyatta, a son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first post-independence president and the most high-profile suspect to appear before the permanent home of the ICC. "But he indeed had political responsibility."

The Deputy Prime Minister has said that he will stand down from the government if charges against him are confirmed.

Hopes have been raised among many ordinary Kenyans that the ICC would finally break the culture of impunity that has protected the country's political elite from the consequences of corruption and orchestrating ethnic clashes. Should the case collapse it would have a disastrous impact on the country's fragile recovery from the events four years ago.

Suspicion of Kenya's politicians runs so deep that many blame them for the plunging Kenyan shilling, the worst performing currency in the world this year. They accuse their leaders of manipulating the exchange rate to build up a war chest for campaigning next year regardless of the impact of inflation on the cost of living for ordinary Kenyans.

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