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Dancing Bashir scoffs at Darfur warrant

President Bashir at the presidential palace in Khartoum, 5 March
Some 10,000 Sudanese rallied in support of their president

By Peter Martell
BBC News, Khartoum

Waving a stick in the air in front of a supportive crowd of thousands, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir punched the air to roars of support.

He looked little like a man on his first full day as an international fugitive - following an arrest warrant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The true criminals are the leaders of the United States and Europe... One day we will take them to justice
President Omar al-Bashir
Some 10,000 protesters crammed themselves into central Khartoum in support of the president, following the issuing on Wednesday of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

'Real criminals'

Instead Mr Bashir scoffed at the warrant, telling the mass rally in the packed downtown district of Khartoum that Western leaders were the real criminals.

Omar al-Bashir: "We will not succumb to colonialists"

"The true criminals are the leaders of the United States and Europe," he told the crowds to loud cheers.

He in turn accused the United States of genocide against the Native American Indians, as well as in Vietnam and in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

"One day we will take them to justice," he added.

It was not clear if the president was joking, but the crowd loved it.

According to the United Nations, some 300,000 have died in Darfur since the conflict erupted in 2003 and more than two million have been displaced - figures strongly rejected by Khartoum.

Street party

At one point, the dancing 65-year-old even gave tongue-in-cheek thanks to the ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo - for bringing the Sudanese together on the streets.

We will show you what we are made of
Sudanese protester

The roads were clogged far out from the centre with busloads of protesters travelling to the demonstration, singing in support of Mr Bashir as they went.

Not all support Mr Bashir. There is little love lost for the leader in those areas affected by the long years of fighting with Khartoum, such as Darfur, the east or the south.

But here in the heart of government loyalists, there was almost a party atmosphere.

A group of women chanted "Down with Ocampo", while a column of school-children shouted, "Down, down America".

'Western spies'

But others grew angry when Mr Bashir accused Western nations of neo-colonialism, and directed their anger at the few foreigners in the crowd.

Sudanese women hold pictures of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during a speech delivered by al-Bashir at the entrance of the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan Thursday, March 5, 2009
Some Sudanese want foreigners out of the country

"We will fight anyone who thinks they can stop the president," said one demonstrator.

"We will show you - the Western nations - what we are made of," a colleague added.

Asked what they thought of the expulsion of 10 aid agencies accused by Khartoum of collaborating with the ICC, protesters seemed not to care.

"We don't need Western spies," one spat.

Amnesty International has warned that more than 2.2 million vulnerable Sudanese face the risk of starvation and disease if the expulsions continue.

But as the angry protesters closed in with a threatening manner, the message was clear: "All foreigners go, all of you, go now," they shouted.

Other Sudanese rushed to offer reassurance that foreigners were welcome, but had a similar attitude.

"We just need a Sudanese solution to a Sudanese issue," one elderly man explained more calmly.

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