|Three prominent Kenyans, allied with the president's rival, appeared in the court on Thursday [Reuters]
A group of high-profile Kenyans, including the deputy prime minister, are appearing before the International Criminal Court on charges of murder, rape and persecution in connection to violence that followed the disputed 2007 election.
Uhuru Kenyatta, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, Francis Muthaura, the cabinet secretary and Mohammed Hussein Ali, Kenya's former police chief, are accused of orchestrating the post-election unrest that saw at least 1,200 people killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
Ekaterina Trendafilova, the presiding judge at the hearing, told the suspects to avoid making inflammatory comments as the hearing began in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Friday's hearing came after another three prominent Kenyans - two suspended ministers and a broadcaster - also stood before the ICC on similar charges.
Together the two groups - known as the Ocampo Six - allegedly created the unrest following the December 27, 2007 elections, but the court has divided the accused into two groups according to their political allegiances.
Prosecutors say William Ruto and Henry Kosgey, both suspended government ministers, and Joshua Arap Sang, a broadcaster, who appeared before the court on Thursday, were part of a plan to target supporters of ruling Party for National Unity (PNU) in order to gain power for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
The other three - Uhuru Kenyatta, the finance minister; Francis Muthaura, cabinet secretary and Mohammed Hussein Ali, former police chief - are accused of being behind attacks against the ODM in order to keep the party of Mwai Kibaki, the president in power.
Raila Odinga of the ODM, who was Kibaki's main challenger in the election, serves as prime minister in the unity government that was formed after the elections.
Kenya has filed an application for the court to declare the two cases inadmissible, saying the country was competent to handle the prosecution itself.
A hearing to weigh prosecution evidence so that judges can decide if it merits sending the case to trial is scheduled for September 21.
Lawyers have asked the prosecutors to hand over evidence to the men as soon as possible so they could begin preparing their defence.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor who is presenting the cases to the court, 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.