Page last updated at 21:45 GMT, Sunday, 8 November 2009

Bashir cancels visit to Istanbul

Omar al-Bashir
Omar al-Bashir says he is unconcerned about the charges against him

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court, has pulled out of an Islamic summit in Istanbul, officials say.

The Turkish government had previously welcomed the attendance of President Bashir at the meeting and said that he would not be arrested.

But the EU, which Turkey hopes to join, wanted the invitation to be withdrawn.

Sudan's state-run Suna news agency said "new developments" had required Mr Bashir's presence in Sudan.

Mr Bashir was in Egypt on Sunday, taking part in a China-Africa summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

He was due in Istanbul on Monday for the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Jonathan Head
Jonathan Head, Istanbul
No-one is saying who blinked, but it was probably Turkey.

On Friday president Abdullah Gul brushed aside a private plea from the European Union saying it was not the EU's place to interfere.

And over the weekend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sounded an equally defiant note saying he did not believe the Sudanese leader was involved in war crimes in Darfur.

Western governments have been careful not to challenge Turkey, as its foreign policy has appeared to shift sharply Eastwards.

But it is likely that quiet pressure from the US and the EU helped to change Turkey's mind over President Bashir.

But Suna said he was returning to Khartoum to "find a solution" to a dispute between his ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

Mr Bashir has visited several African countries since the ICC issued the warrant for his arrest in March, saying he was responsible for atrocities in Darfur.

He has denied the accusations.

Turkey has pointed out it is not a signatory to the treaty which set up the Hague-based ICC.

Officials also say Mr Bashir was invited by the OIC and not Ankara.

But Turkey, which is seeking EU membership, had come under pressure from Brussels to drop Mr Bashir from the guest list.

"The Sudanese see and understand well the difficulties," an unnamed senior Turkish diplomat told AFP news agency.

Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned the charges against Mr Bashir and said that "no Muslim could perpetrate a genocide", according to Turkey's Anatolia news agency.

"If there was such a thing (a genocide), we could talk about it face to face with President Bashir," he was quoted as saying.

The ICC arrest warrant accuses Mr Bashir of running a campaign of genocide that killed 35,000 people outright, at least another 100,000 through a "slow death" and of forcing 2.5 million to flee their homes in Darfur.

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