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Africa backs Kenya call for Hague court to drop Kenyatta case

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - African nations have backed a request by Kenya for charges of crimes against humanity by its president to be referred back to the east African country, African Union documents show.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, are both facing trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC), accused of masterminding ethnic bloodshed in post-election violence five years ago that killed more than 1,200 people. Both deny the charges.

One minister, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters that the African Union specifically avoided calling on the war crimes tribunal to drop its prosecution, but he acknowledged that the request for a local process amounted to the same thing.

The document seen by Reuters on Friday said: "(The Assembly) supports and endorses the eastern Africa region's request for a referral of the ICC investigations and prosecutions."

The proposal, drafted after foreign ministers had debated the issue late on Thursday, now has to be voted on by heads of state, which diplomats say is typically a rubber-stamping exercise.

Kenya told the assembly that the ICC trials risked destabilizing east Africa's biggest economy when it was undertaking reforms to avoid a repeat of the violence after the election in December 2007.

The African Union said that a referral of the cases would "allow for a national mechanism to investigate and prosecute the cases under a reformed judiciary ... to prevent the resumption of conflict and violence in Kenya."

The ICC's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has previously said that she will not drop the cases. Many Africans feel that the continent is targeted by the ICC, making the court deeply unpopular across Africa.

Kenyatta's trial is due to begin in July.

(Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and David Goodman)

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