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ICC begins hearings on Kenyan violence -

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ELEANOR HALL: The International Criminal Court in The Hague has heard harrowing details of the violence that swept Kenya five years ago.

The country's deputy president, William Ruto, is on trial charged with crimes against humanity.

He's entered a plea of not guilty to three counts.

As the ABC's Martin Cuddihy reports from Nairobi.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The politically charged violence that swept through Kenya was nothing short of brutal.

ANTON STEINBERG: PNU supporters sought refuge in the Assemblies of God church. A holy place where they expected to be safe. However the attackers barricaded the victims inside this church and set it alight.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Prosecutor Anton Steinberg has detailed some of the crimes against humanity that form the basis of this trial.

ANTON STEINBERG: Many of the occupants were trampled to death or burnt alive. Others who managed to escape the flames were hunted down and hacked to death. In total between 17 and 35 people of all ages were killed.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Kenya's deputy president William Ruto is accused of organising violence like this.

In 2007 and 2008 more than 1,000 Kenyans were killed and some half a million more were forced to flee their homes to avoid the violence.

The International Criminal Court will try to prove he provided weapons and logistics to the attackers in remote parts of Kenya.

Mr Ruto has denied three counts - of murder, deportation and persecution.

JUDGE: You have been charged with persecution as a crime against humanity. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

WILLIAM RUTO: Not guilty.

JUDGE: Thank you very much. You may resume your seat.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: As the charges were being read out Mr Ruto smiled and shook his head.

The former radio broadcaster, Joshua Sang, is Mr Ruto's co-accused.

In her opening statement, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Mr Sang was the campaign mouthpiece and the two men had clear intentions.

FATOU BENSOUDA: The crimes for which Mr Ruto and Mr Sang are charged were not just random and spontaneous acts of brutality. On the contrary this was a carefully planned, coordinated and executed campaign of violence.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: William Ruto's defence counsel, the eloquent Karim Khan has told the court his client is an innocent man who's been tarnished by this case.

KARIM KHAN: Your honours we say that there is a rotten underbelly of this case. That the prosecutor has swallowed hook, line and sinker. Indifferent to the truth. All too eager to latch on to any version, any account, any story that somehow ticks the boxes that we have to tick in relation to putting forward a summons or putting forward a confirmation herein.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The trial is expected to last into October before Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta goes to The Hague to face similar accusations.

And in what is perhaps a conciliatory gesture - the ICC has agreed to ensure the two trials don't overlap.

Mr Kenyatta had promised not to leave the country until his deputy returns.

In Nairobi, this is Martin Cuddihy for The World Today.