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Al-Bashir rallies Sudanese ahead of warrant decision

Guillaume Lavallee

President Omar al-Bashir is seeking to rally the Sudanese people behind him ahead of a decision by the ICC on whether to seek his arrest.

President Omar al-Bashir is seeking to rally the Sudanese people behind him ahead of a decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether to seek his arrest for alleged war crimes in Darfur.

The ICC is expected to announce on Wednesday if it will issue a warrant on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, scene of a six-year conflict that has cost several hundred thousand of lives.

“Where was international justice during the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing of Gaza, and the crimes committed in the prisons of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib?” al-Bashir demanded during a mass rally in Khartoum on Sunday.

Since ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo recommended the warrant in July, al-Bashir has started to build up a personality cult around himself, after ruling Sudan for nearly 20 years.

His government is being targeted by “Western powers” for its support to the resistance in Palestine, Lebanon and Afghanistan, al-Bashir said at the rally, identifying himself with the Islamic movement.

Huge posters displaying his photo have appeared on the streets of Khartoum to highlight the “virtues” of their leader and the “treachery” of the ICC.

“Al-Bashir is the symbol of our dignity and pride,” says one poster. “Ocampo’s conspiracy is a desperate attempt to humiliate the Sudanese people,” says another. “Ocampo’s farce is a conspiracy that is rejected by all.”

Al-Bashir has made intense efforts to show himself in a positive light after reports that The Hague-based ICC had decided to issue the warrant, which would be the first from the court against a sitting head of state.

His regime accuses ICC of being a political tool in the hands of foreign powers bent on destabilising the largest country in the Africa.

The United Nations says that up to 300 000 people have died since ethnic minority rebels in the western region of Darfur took up arms against the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime in 2003.

The Sudan government puts the death toll at 10 000.

Sudan does not recognise the court but al-Bashir last week dangled the carrot of free elections in the near future if he remains in office.

Two weeks ago, the government signed a confidence-building accord with the Justice and Equality Movement rebel group, paving the way for broader peace talks to end the Darfur conflict, now in its seventh year.

Sudanese media have been full of praise for the government for the development of the Meroe hydroelectric dam, scheduled for inauguration on Tuesday and which will double the country’s electricity capacity.

Demonstrations have already been organised for Wednesday to coincide with the ICC decision, including protests at the embassies of UN Security Council members the United States, Britain and France, a diplomat said.—AFP

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