The son of Kenya's founding father declared Friday he was innocent of all charges after he appeared with two other suspects before judges at the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating postelection violence that killed 1,000 people
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's deputy prime minister and finance minister, appeared at the preliminary hearing along with Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura and the country's former police chief Mohammed Hussein Ali.
The suspects were not required to enter pleas at the 55-minute hearing, which was held to establish that the men understood the charges against them, read them their rights and to set a timetable for future pretrial hearings.
"The process now has started and we expect justice. Nothing short of justice," Uhuru said in the middle of a throng of singing and chanting supporters on the courthouse steps. "When you are innocent, there is nothing to worry about. So we had nothing to fear."
Uhuru is the son of Kenya's first post-independence president Jomo Kenyatta and is considered a serious contender in next year's presidential elections.
Asked if he feared his presidential bid could be derailed by the case, he answered: "I don't believe so, because eventually not only Kenyans but the whole world will know what the truth is _ and the truth is we are innocent."
On Thursday, three other prominent Kenyans also appeared at the court and declared their innocence to crimes against humanity charges in violence that erupted after disputed 2007 presidential elections. Some 1,000 people died and 600,000 were forced from their homes.
A hearing to weigh prosecution evidence so judges can decide if it merits sending the case to trial was scheduled for Sept. 21. A status conference to discuss pretrial issues was ordered for April 18.
Lawyers for the three men asked the prosecutors to hand over evidence to the men as soon as possible so they could begin preparing their defense.
Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he considered evidence disclosure "a cornerstone of a fair trial." However, he added he was concerned that a Kenyan application to have judges drop the case could hold up disclosure.
In a past trial, Moreno-Ocampo has clashed with judges over failing to turn over evidence to suspects.
Presiding judge Ekaterina Trendafilova warned the suspects against making any inflammatory speeches that could re-ignite the violence unleashed after the 2007 election. She issued the same warning Thursday.
Trendafilova said whipping up hatred could lead the court to order the men arrested. She said, however, judges would rather not "resort to such drastic actions."
Violence spread through Kenya after President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner of the December 2007 vote, which supporters of the leading opposition candidate Raila Odinga said was rigged.
Fighting only stopped after former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan mediated an agreement that made Odinga prime minister.
Prosecutors say Uhuru and the two other suspects plotted with a criminal gang called the Mungiki to attack supporters of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement to keep Kibaki's Party of National Unity in power. In exchange, the government would tolerate the gang and protect its interests.
Mungiki fighters allegedly killed more than 150 people, raped dozens more and forced up to 10,000 people from their homes in attacks on two villages in January 2008.
Outside the court, dozens of supporters called for the cases of all six suspects _ branded the "Ocampo Six" after Moreno-Ocampo indicted them _ to be sent back to Kenya. The government in Nairobi has applied to the court to drop the case, arguing that its new constitution and judicial reforms means the country can prosecute those responsible for post-election violence. Judges are considering the application.
"Kenya is capable of organizing trials and judging these six people," Stephen Kinuthia said outside court.