Page last updated at 13:05 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 14:05 UK

Bashir rattled, but unbowed

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has given his first TV interview since being indicted on war-crimes charges. The BBC's Zeinab Badawi reflects on her meeting with the controversial leader.

President Omar Al-Bashir speaks to the BBC's HARDTalk

President Bashir is a man keen to get his message out.

For him it is all very simple: his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a plot by the Western world to subjugate Sudan.

During the day that I recorded an interview for the HARDtalk programme, I spent a lot of time with the president.

In the evening I went back to his private residence for dinner - but not before listening to him make a two-hour long address to guests in a massive reception room with beautiful chandeliers and excessive air conditioning.

It had been a long day and sadly there was no interpreter for me - but my Arabic just about stretched to give me greater insights into the president's thinking.

After his address we went to his beautifully-maintained garden for dinner al fresco and to my surprise I was ushered to a table to sit right next to him.

Charges are 'diversion'

Why, I asked him, did he believe that he and Sudan were being targeted by the world?

The president seemed to have a detailed grasp of all the accusations against him over Darfur

This time speaking in English - he is fluent - he gave me several reasons.

First he said it was because of his opposition to the Iraq war; also the West - the US in particular - wanted control of Sudan's oil - the country is now one of Africa's major oil producers, churning out 500,000 barrels a day.

He also said Sudan displays a spirit of independence which he reckons world powers do not like.

And lately he thinks his indictment by the ICC and the whole focus on the Darfur conflict is a diversionary tactic from other conflicts like the one in Gaza, or in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Authorities refocused

Ever since his indictment by the ICC on 4 March, President Bashir has shunned the international media.

Yet to many people's surprise, not only did he agree to be interviewed, he agreed to appear on HARDtalk - a programme in which guests' views are rigorously tested.

Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, file image
Mr Bashir denies the claims of war-crimes prosecutors

His aides did not tell me there were "no-go areas", so I could be as tough as I liked.

In the interview and my subsequent conversations with him, the president seemed to have a detailed grasp of all the accusations against him over Darfur - rejecting general and specific allegations I put to him.

He blames the conflict squarely on the Darfuri rebels. A favourite rhetorical refrain of his is this: which country would not defend itself against a rebellion?

Though he is clearly quite rattled by his indictment, for President Bashir the reasons for the case against him are clear.

I could not help feeling that the focus for the authorities in Sudan had been diverted to fighting the indictment, rather than trying to resolve both the conflict in Darfur and the problem in the south of the country.

On his right hand Mr Bashir wears a silver ring with a Koranic inscription on it: "Keep on striving and you will gain victory."

That, I thought, just about sums up his thinking.

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