Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta left Tuesday for The Hague for pretrial hearings at the International Criminal Court, where he is set to face charges of organizing mass ethnic violence.
On Thursday, a court hearing has been called to set a date for Kenyatta’s eventual trial at the ICC.
Legislators, senators and officials accompanied Kenyatta to the airport, with some of them flying with him in a show of support, the Star newspaper reported.
Kenyatta had on Monday met with the National Security Council, the country’s top security body, to discuss his absence, The Standard newspaper reported.
Deputy President William Ruto has taken charge of the government.
Both Kenyatta and Ruto face charges of organizing mass ethnic violence following the disputed 2007 election.
The two were on opposite sides of the political divide at the time. Ruto, a member of the Kalenjin ethnic group, was allied with opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo.
Odinga accused Kikuyu president Mwai Kibaki – supported by Kenyatta, a fellow Kikuyu – of rigging his way back to power in those elections.
The political riots descended into ethnic killings of the Kikuyu, who retaliated, plunging Kenya into a spiral of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and half a million displaced.
Kenyatta and Ruto, however, joined forces for the 2013 elections, presenting themselves as national unifiers, and won.
Ruto’s trial at the ICC has already begun and he has appeared in court.
Kenyatta will be the first head of state to come before the ICC. He has appeared there before, but not after he became president.
At the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution is expected to accuse the Kenyan government of withholding evidence, while the defence is expected to ask the prosecution to drop the case for lack of evidence.
Kenyatta told parliament on Monday that he was innocent and expressed confidence that the case would be terminated.
He said he would appear in court as a private person, since he was charged before he became president and his status as head of state was not on trial.