Page last updated at 13:06 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 14:06 UK

Sudanese rally to support leader

Hundreds of Sudanese shout slogans during a protest in Khartoum, 13 July 2008
Demonstrators denounced possible ICC plans to indict Mr Bashir

Thousands of people have rallied in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, in support of their President, Omar al-Bashir.

The protests followed reports that Mr Bashir is about to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The demonstrators gathered outside an office where Mr Bashir was chairing an emergency meeting ahead of prosecution plans to present evidence on Monday.

Sudan does not recognise the ICC, and warns the case could stall peace talks.

Earlier, the African Union (AU) expressed concern over reports that war-crimes charges might be brought against members of the Sudanese government.

'Misuse of indictments'

In a statement issued on Saturday, the African Union "expressed its strong conviction that the search for justice should be pursued in a way that does not impede or jeopardise efforts aimed at promoting lasting peace".

Sudanese President Omar Bashir (C) gestures to the crowd from the roof of the parliament building, Khartoum, 13 July 2008
Mr Bashir gestured to the crowd from the roof of the parliament building

The statement also "reiterated the AU's concern with the misuse of indictments against African leaders".

Meanwhile, Sudanese government spokesman Mahjoub Fadul Badry said the indictment of Mr Bashir would violate Sudan's sovereignty.

"If an international organisation or the organisations working in the humanitarian field are behind such an indictment of the head of state, our symbol of national sovereignty, then no-one should expect us to turn our left cheek," Mr Badry told al-Arabiya television.

Thousands of UN and AU peacekeepers are deployed in Darfur and a spokeswoman for the force has said the security alert for its staff has been raised.

The joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid), which has 9,000 troops in Darfur, has been struggling to contain the violence there.

It has raised the security alert for its staff to "level four", which stops short of evacuating all staff, but relocates foreign workers who are not directly involved in relief or security operations.

Under fire

Seven Unamid troops were killed on Wednesday and 22 injured in an attack on 9 July by suspected members of the pro-government Janjaweed militia.

Unamid force commander General Martin Luther Agwai - 12/7/2008
The AU force has expressed concern over the possible war-crimes charges

Over the last five years, more than two million people have fled their villages in Darfur, destroyed by the Janjaweed.

The Arab militia has been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide against black African civilians, after rebels took up arms in protest at alleged government discrimination in 2003.

The UN estimates that some 300,000 people have died because of the conflict but Sudan's government says the scale of the violence has been exaggerated.

It is estimated that two-thirds of Darfur's surviving population rely on humanitarian assistance.

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