THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court postponed the trial of Kenya's president on crimes against humanity charges until next year, saying Thursday it deeply regrets the latest delay in long-running preparations for the case.
Judges said the trial of Uhuru Kenyatta that had been scheduled to start Nov. 12 will now get underway Feb. 5.
The decision came hours after prosecutors said they would not oppose a delay because they needed time to investigate undisclosed issues raised by Kenyatta's defense attorneys.
It was the latest setback in moves to try Kenyatta. His trial earlier had been scheduled to start July 9, but was pushed back to give defense lawyers more time to prepare. The court has also dropped all charges against two other men originally charged alongside Kenyatta, citing lack of evidence.
Kenyatta is charged as an "indirect co-perpetrator" with murder, deportation, rape, persecution and inhumane acts allegedly committed by his supporters in postelection violence that left more than 1,000 people dead in late 2007 and early 2008.
Kenyatta, who was elected president earlier this year even though he had been indicted by the ICC, insists he is innocent.
In a statement, the court said the panel of judges preparing the case for trial, "expressed its deep regret that repeated adjournments of the trial have been necessary because one or both parties have required more time to prepare."
Judges urged prosecution and defense attorneys to speed up their preparations to avoid any further postponements. Rights groups also urged speed.
"Delays in what are complex cases are sometimes unavoidable, but no doubt this will come as a disappointment to Kenyans who have been left waiting for justice for too long," said Elizabeth Evenson of Human Rights Watch.
Kenyatta's lawyers have called for the case against him to be delayed or dropped, saying the evidence is tainted by false testimony from prosecution witnesses.
Meanwhile, the African Union is urging the United Nations Security Council to delay the cases against Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, for a year.
An AU delegation including the foreign ministers of Ethiopia, Burundi, Mauritania, Uganda, Senegal, Namibia and Kenya was meeting informally Thursday with Security Council members in New York to press its case for a one-year deferral.
Ruto's trial already has begun on charges of organizing post-election violence. He has pleaded not guilty.
Kenyan opposition to the trials of Kenyatta and Ruto has gained traction since last month's deadly terror attack by militants on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall.
The AU's letter on Oct. 12 requesting a deferral said the delay would give Kenya time to beef up counterterrorism efforts in the country and East Africa.
African countries accuse the International Criminal Court of disproportionately targeting African leaders. The court has indicted only Africans so far, though half of the eight cases it is prosecuting were referred by African governments.