Lawyers for Uhuru Kenyatta have argued that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should dismiss crimes against humanity charges against Kenya's president-elect over post-2007 election violence.

Lawyer Steven Kay asked a three-judge bench at The Hague-based court on Monday to scrap his client's July trial date and send the case back to the pre-trial chamber, after prosecutors last week dropped all charges against Kenyatta's co-accused.

The evidence against top civil servant Francis Muthaura was critically undermined by the withdrawal of key witness testimony, and Kay said the five charges against Kenyatta, including rape and murder, should now also be reconsidered.

Should the charges against Kenyatta stand, he will become the first-ever president to have to go to The Hague to face a trial that could last at least two years shortly after taking office.

Pre-trial hearing

The case against Kenyatta, charged with crimes against humanity over deadly violence in the wake of Kenya's election in 2007, has been further complicated by his victory in a ballot which was held largely peacefully this month.

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A status conference, or pre-trial hearing, has been called by judges in The Hague for 14:00GMT on Friday, and will look at the consequences of the withdrawal of the charges against Muthaura for the case against Kenyatta.

Kenyatta and former civil servant Muthaura were among six suspects initially charged by ICC prosecutors with orchestrating violence after the 2007 election, when some 1,200 people were killed.

On March 11, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the decision of a key witness to recant testimony had forced her to drop charges against Muthaura.

Bensouda said the decision would have no impact on Kenyatta's case.

Kenyatta's lawyers will call on Friday for the case against him to be dropped or at least postponed, said one lawyer who was familiar with the case, but did not want to be quoted by name.

"The collapse of the case against Muthaura has a profound impact on the viability of the prosecution's case against
Kenyatta," the lawyer said. 

The prosecutions are based to a large extent on similar evidence, with both men denying any wrongdoing. 

Ethnic divisions

Kenyatta, 51, elected by a slim margin earlier this month, faces a big challenge in bridging Kenya's ethnic divides even without the court case.

His opponent, Raila Odinga, challenged the election result in court on Saturday, alleging widespread ballot rigging. 

The prosecution would then have to show again that it has a strong enough case to go to trial.

Judges have not yet formally dropped the case against Muthaura.

The case is an important test for the Netherlands court, which was set up more than a decade ago as the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, but has so far only secured one conviction.

Source: Agencies