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Arrest warrant draws Sudan scorn

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President Omar al-Bashir takes to the streets of Khartoum

Sudan has dismissed the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against its leader as a "neo- colonialist" move to destabilise it.

President Omar al-Bashir is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. It is the first ICC warrant served against a serving head of state.

China, a key ally of Sudan, urged the ICC to suspend its case, saying it risked destabilising Darfur.

Hours after the ICC announcement, Sudan expelled 10 foreign aid agencies.

The US and EU welcomed the ICC ruling, but some Arab and African nations said it would hinder Darfur peace efforts.

The UN estimates that 300,000 people have died in the six-year conflict. Millions more have been displaced.

A panel of ICC judge ruled that Mr Bashir should answer two counts of war crimes, and five counts of crimes against humanity.

The court is only one mechanism of neo-colonialist policy used by the West against free and independent countries
Mustafa Othman Ismail
Aide to Omar al-Bashir

The president is accused of "directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur", said Laurence Blairon, a spokeswoman for the court in The Hague.

She told reporters the attacks had included "murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property".

But the panel rejected a further accusation of genocide, saying there was insufficient evidence of a specific intent to destroy particular ethnic groups in Darfur.

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

Expulsions

The Sudanese government, which had said it would ignore any ruling, reaffirmed it had no intention of co-operating with the ICC.

"The court is only one mechanism of neo-colonialist policy used by the West against free and independent countries," Sudanese presidential aide Mustafa Othman Ismail said.

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

Thousands of government supporters gathered in central Khartoum chanting: "We love you President Bashir".

Sudan revoked the registrations of 10 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.

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.

The African Union said the ruling could strike a fatal blow to faltering peace moves in Darfur.

"We support the fight against impunity," AU commission chairman Jean Ping told AFP news agency.

"But we say that peace and justice should not collide, that the need for justice should not override the need for peace."

China - which buys much of Sudan's oil and provides it with weapons - called on the ICC to suspend the case.

"China is opposed to any action that could interfere with the peaceful situation in Darfur and Sudan," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.

'Victory'

Meanwhile the US State Department said that "those who have committed atrocities should be brought to justice". The EU also welcomed the decision, as did human-rights groups.

Darfur refugee child's drawing

"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.

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.

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".

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.

The Darfur conflict began in early 2003, when the government and Arab militias launched a campaign against black-African rebel groups.

The ICC was set up in 2002 to try those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Its statutes have been ratified by more than 100 countries.

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