By Thomas Escritt
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Judges at the International Criminal Court on Friday rejected a bid by Kenyan deputy president William Ruto to have his trial adjourned until mid-October to allow him to deal with the aftermath of the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall.
The judges said the trial for crimes against humanity must resume on Wednesday, allowing Ruto to attend a memorial service the day before for the 72 people who died in the 4-day assault, claimed by Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
"The service is an important event in Kenya's national healing," said judge Chile Eboe-Osuji, presiding.
Hearings have been suspended since Ruto asked last Sunday for an adjournment to allow him to return home at the height of the hostage drama at the Westgate mall.
At the hearing on Friday, his lawyers said he would need to stay longer to deal with a series of high-level meetings relating to the attack.
Ruto and his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, face charges of crimes against humanity related to the violence that followed Kenya's 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people died. Both have voluntarily complied with all the court's summonses.
But since they were elected to their posts earlier this year, both men have asked judges for more leeway in attending court hearings, saying their presence is needed in Kenya. If one is in court, the other must be at home, they say, meaning they cannot represent the country properly at international summits.
The court has not yet given a final ruling on whether the two men can be excused from most hearings.
The ICC, which has brought charges against only Africans since it was set up a decade ago, is increasingly coming under fire in Kenya and in Africa more broadly, where many see it as an instrument of neo-colonial meddling. The court points out that it was Kenya itself that referred the case to its jurisdiction.
Legal experts say judges have to tread a fine line in ensuring the court's writ runs firmly while avoiding inflaming opinion in Kenya, where the mall attack is still a very fresh wound.
Kenyan lawmakers voted earlier in September to call for their country to withdraw from the court, prompting suggestions from other countries on the continent that they were considering similar moves.