Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 15:31 UK

Sudan 'will block genocide case'

Women protest in support of Sudan's president
Protesters turn out in Khartoum in support of President Bashir

Sudan has said it will do all it can to block the work of the International Criminal Court, which has accused the nation's leader of genocide in Darfur.

President Omar al-Bashir's most senior adviser told the BBC the allegations were designed to generate hostility between tribal groups in Darfur.

Ghazi Salaheddin said that if the ICC pursued the case it could jeopardise relations between Sudan and the UN.

Meanwhile, the UN is withdrawing about 200 non-essential staff from Darfur.

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The UN said the decision to pull back staff from the joint UN-African Union Darfur mission, Unamid, came after recent violence and as a precaution after the genocide accusation.

In the capital, Khartoum, the UN told its staff to stay at home as thousands of Sudanese took to the streets rallying in support of their president.

Mr Bashir, who says the accusations are lies, is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Judges at the ICC, an independent body, are yet to decide if there are reasonable grounds to issue an arrest warrant against Mr Bashir.

Some 300,000 people have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur since 2003, while more than two million people have fled their homes, the UN estimates.

Sudan's government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003.

'No jurisdiction'

In a BBC interview, Ghazi Salaheddin said Sudan did not recognise the ICC's jurisdiction and it would be rallying support among its allies to try to block proceedings.

Efforts to indict a sitting head of state would set a dangerous precedent, he said.

I strongly support the ICC's move, I do not want to see people dying anymore
Job, Sudan

Allegations of genocide by the ICC's chief prosecutor were designed to generate hostility between tribal groups in Darfur, Mr Salaheddin said.

"On the allegation of genocide, an international commission sanctioned by the United Nations has come and investigated the situation in Sudan and has concluded that there was no genocide. So genocide is out of the question," he said.

Mr Salaheddin denied the government of Sudan was blackmailing the international community by failing to provide security guarantees for peacekeepers and humanitarian staff.

He said that Sudan would be seeking support from its allies in the Arab League, which is meeting on Saturday to discuss how to respond to the ICC's accusations.

The UN runs large-scale humanitarian operations in the region and has thousands of peacekeepers in Darfur as part of a joint mission with the African Union (AU).

African Union dilemma

In its first reaction, China expressed grave concern over the ICC prosecutor's decision to seek the arrest of Omar al-Bashir.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the court should try to help bring stability to Sudan and not to undermine it.

He said China would continue to consult with other members of the UN Security Council about whether to block the ICC but would not speculate on possible results of talks.

Omar al-Bashir at a rally in Khartoum, 13 July
Killing members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups
Causing these groups serious bodily or mental harm
Inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about these groups' physical destruction
Crimes against humanity:
Forcible transfer
War crimes:
Attacks on civilians in Darfur
Pillaging towns and villages

Meanwhile Russia called for "restraint" from all sides.

Russia's ambassador to the UN said Sudan and the UN must "exercise restraint and find solutions that will help the people of Sudan and resolve the crisis in Darfur".

The US, which is not part of the ICC, offered some praise on Monday for prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo's charge.

"In our view, recognition of the humanitarian disaster and the atrocities that have gone on there is a positive thing," state department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

But the African Union urged caution. Speaking on behalf of the AU chairman, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said the ICC should suspend its decision on whether to seek Mr Bashir's arrest until problems in Darfur were resolved.

The Peace and Security Commissioner for the AU, Ramtane Lamamra, has flown to Sudan for a meeting with Mr Bashir and other members of the government.

The AU Commission expressed concern that "hard-won gains made in the search for peace and reconciliation in the Sudan" could be jeopardised.

Foreign ministers of the 15 countries currently serving on the AU's Peace and Security Council are expected to meet in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital where the AU is based, next week.

The charges against President Bashir put African countries in an acutely difficult position, says the BBC's Liz Blunt in Addis Ababa.

They supply almost all the troops for the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, and are also the countries most likely to be called upon to carry out any arrest warrant, she says.

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