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Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Warrant issued for Sudan's leader

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on 3 March 2009
Omar al-Bashir says the charges reflect Western hostility towards Sudan

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's president on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

But the ICC in The Hague stopped short of accusing Omar al-Bashir of genocide. He denies the charges and has dismissed any ruling by the court as worthless.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Khartoum, after the announcement, amid fears of unrest.

The UN estimates 300,000 people have died in Darfur's six-year conflict.

Millions more have been displaced.

Court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon announced the ruling by a panel of judges on the charges presented by ICC prosecutors.

She said Mr Bashir was suspected of being criminally responsible for "intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property".

This decision is exactly what we have been expecting from the court, which was created to target Sudan
Mustafa Othman Ismail
Aide to Omar al-Bashir

Ms Blairon said the violence in Darfur was the result of a common plan organised at the highest level of the Sudanese government, but there was no evidence of genocide.

The court would transmit a request for Mr Bashir's arrest and surrender as soon as possible to the Sudanese government, she added.

It is the first warrant issued by The Hague-based UN court against a sitting head of state.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made the request for the warrant in July 2008.

'Toothless'

Reacting to the charges, an aide to Mr Bashir said the ICC judges were biased.

"This decision is exactly what we have been expecting from the court, which was created to target Sudan and to be part of the new mechanism of neo-colonialism," Mustafa Othman Ismail told Sudanese TV.

ICC's BASHIR CHARGE SHEET
War crimes:
Intentionally directing attacks against civilians
Pillaging
Crimes against humanity:
Murder
Extermination
Forcible transfer
Torture
Rape

Speaking on Tuesday ahead of the announcement, Mr Bashir said the Hague tribunal could "eat" the arrest warrant.

He said it would "not be worth the ink it is written on" and then danced for thousands of cheering supporters who burned an effigy of the ICC chief prosecutor.

Sudan expert Alex de Waal told the BBC the indictment is "pretty toothless" as the ICC does not have a police force.

In Khartoum thousands of government supporters gathered, chanting "We love you President Bashir".

Security was increased at many embassies, and some Westerners stayed home amid fears of retaliation.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Sudan to "co-operate fully" with all United Nations entities.

He said the UN would "continue to conduct its vital peacekeeping, humanitarian, human rights and development operations and activities in Sudan".

African and Arab countries have warned that the court's action will only increase tension in Sudan.

Egypt said it was "greatly disturbed" by the ICC's decision and called for a meeting of the UN Security Council to defer implementation of the warrant.

Sudan's foreign ministry said President Bashir would ignore it and attend an Arab summit scheduled later this month in Qatar.

Aid workers withdrawn

Russia called the warrant a "dangerous precedent".

Darfur's Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group hailed the decision as a "victory for international law" and called on Mr Bashir to turn himself in.

Darfur refugee child's drawing

The US administration also welcomed it, as did international human-rights groups.

"With this arrest warrant, the International Criminal Court has made Omar al-Bashir a wanted man," said Richard Dicker of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International called on any country visited by President Bashir to detain him.

Sudan expelled at least six foreign aid agencies hours after the arrest warrant was issued, aid officials said. No reasons were given for the move.

Before the announcement, the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had withdrawn foreign staff from Darfur.

The war crimes court has already issued two arrest warrants - in 2007 - for Sudanese Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Haroun and the Janjaweed militia leader Ali Abdul Rahman.

Sudan has refused to hand them over.



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Los Angeles Times Justice for Darfur - 1 hr ago
Boston Globe UN leader warns Sudan on expulsion of aid groups - 3 hrs ago
Xinhua News Agency Sudanese president denounces West for his arrest - 3 hrs ago
CNN U.S. meets aid groups over Darfur - 3 hrs ago
Washington Post Sudanese President Rails Against West - 3 hrs ago



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