Crowds cheer Kenyan leader's return from ICC court

Uhuru Kenyatta was given a red carpet welcome with a military honour guard

Nairobi: President Uhuru Kenyatta was welcomed by thousands cheering him home Thursday, a day after becoming the first sitting president to appear before the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity charges.

Kenyatta, who was given a red carpet welcome with a military honour guard as well as dancers singing songs declaring he "is innocent," had appeared in The Hague-based court on Wednesday.

Thousands lined the roads and supporters chanted his name waving Kenyan flags after he landed in Nairobi airport shortly after dawn, with the president standing out the sunroof of a car addressing cheering supporters.

"We want one Kenya, a Kenya that respects all, irrespective of religion, tribe or gender," Kenyatta shouted to crowds who thronged the main highway from the airport to see him, waving, in a slow parade that lasted for hours.

"Our unity will enable us to move forward."

Kenyatta, 52, faces five counts at the ICC over his alleged role in orchestrating unrest in 2007 and 2008 that left 1,200 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

He had been summoned to answer questions at his floundering trial for allegedly masterminding the deadly post-election violence, with the judges now to deliberate on whether to send the case to trial -- or to possibly abandon it after the prosecution said it did not have enough evidence.

Traffic came to a standstill in central Nairobi as people danced and prayed on the streets.

"I came here to welcome our president," said Florence Wangari, who runs a small business.

"I have not been sleeping, praying and fasting because of all the tribulations that the president has been facing."

Mary Wanjiru, 35, with her tiny baby strapped to her back, said he was "happy our president is back", and offering "thanks to God for seeing him through all this."

- Parade through Nairobi -

The president, who left the airport on a triumphal procession waving to supporters to the centre of the capital "received a hero's welcome", the presidential office said in a statement.

He was welcomed at Nairobi airport by Deputy President William Ruto, a fellow ICC defendant to whom he had temporarily handed power while away, so as to "protect the sovereignty" of the east African country, travelling to Amsterdam on a regular flight as a "private" citizen.

Ruto is already on trial at the ICC for his part in the violence, while Kenyatta's trial has yet to begin despite a drawn-out three-and-a-half-year legal saga.

The Kenyan leader had appeared at the ICC before, but not since he was elected president in March 2013.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last month asked for an indefinite postponement, saying Nairobi had refused to cooperate with a request for financial and other statements, so she did not have enough evidence for a trial.

They want Kenyatta's bank statements, tax records and telephone records relating to the period of unrest. They believe that the documents could prove Kenyatta's part in bankrolling and orchestrating the violence.

The repeatedly-delayed case has seen at least seven prosecution witnesses drop out, allegedly through bribes and intimidation.

Prosecutor Ben Gumpert said on Wednesday that since being elected, Kenyatta had "an exceptional constitutional duty to make sure that these obstructions do not take place".

But Kenyatta's lawyer Steven Kay said the case had "failed in a way that there's no prospect to go further."

Judges could also find, as the prosecution has requested, that Kenya is not cooperating, and postpone the case pending a referral to the Assembly of States Parties of countries that have signed the ICC's founding Rome Statute.

Bitter memories are still fresh from 2007, when elections escalated into ethnic conflict, for which Kenyatta and Ruto were charged with crimes against humanity. Both reject the charges.

The African Union had previously called for the ICC cases to be withdrawn and transferred to Kenyan courts, accusing the ICC of targeting Africans. Kenya's post-electoral unrest shattered the east African country's image as a beacon of regional stability.

What began as political riots quickly turned into ethnic killings of Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe, who in return launched reprisal attacks, plunging Kenya into its worst wave of unrest since independence in 1963.

( Source : AFP )
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