NAIROBI - Kenya’s High Court cleared the way Friday for presidential hopeful Uhuru Kenyatta to run for office next month despite his facing a crimes against humanity trial, saying it lacked the jurisdiction for the case. With little time left before the March 4 election, the ruling on Kenyatta’s eligibility effectively leaves him free to contest the polls, in which he is seen as one of the leading candidates for the country’s top job. “The High Court lacks jurisdiction to deal with a question relating to the election of a president,” the panel of five judges said in a statement read to a packed courtroom, saying only the Supreme Court could rule on the case.

Kenya is less than three weeks from a presidential election, the first since polls five years ago erupted into bloody ethnic violence that left more than 1,100 people dead and hundreds of thousand displaced. The ruling also applies to Kenyatta’s running mate William Ruto, who together lead the Jubilee Coalition party. Both men face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged roles in orchestrating murder, rape and violence after the 2007 polls. Judge Mbogoli Msagha said despite ICC charges “every citizen has the right to vie for office... an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty”. Around a hundred supporters of the pair - who were not present in court - celebrated after the ruling, chanting their names, shouting “elections now!”, and waving placards. Kenyatta said the ruling had “affirmed what we have always held; (that) the people of Kenya - and they alone - have the power and the mandate to determine the leadership of this great country,” he said in a statement.