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18 Mar 2009 14:47
Sudan’s president rallied thousands of spear-waving Arab tribesmen in Darfur on Wednesday as he maintained his defiant stance against international moves to arrest him for war crimes.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir vowed to confront Western “colonisers” at the gathering of Rizeigat tribespeople—a group including clans that have produced some of the fiercest pro-government militias in the Darfur conflict.
Al-Bashir’s emotional speech came amid signs of a growing standoff between Sudan and the West following the International Criminal Court’s decision to indict him for masterminding atrocities in Darfur.
The president sparked international outrage this month when he expelled 13 foreign aid groups, and shut down three local organisations, accusing them of assisting the court.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday stepped up pressure on Khartoum by saying al-Bashir would be responsible for every death caused by the resulting drop in humanitarian cover in the remote region.
The vast crowd of Rizeigat tribespeople, many riding horses and camels, swore a mass oath of allegiance to the president at the rally in the remote Sibdu valley area in south Darfur.
In a speech broadcast live on Sudan TV, al-Bashir told the gathering the West was trying to remove him from power, but he was ready to confront any attack.
“These knights on horseback now have spears, but tomorrow on the battlefield they will have machine guns,” he said, referring to the crowd.
Al-Bashir invoked Sudan’s colonial-era victories, including the defeat and killing of Britain’s Major-General Charles George Gordon in 1885. He called for an end to fighting inside Darfur, saying the government was pushing through a string of development projects from roads to hospitals.
International experts say almost six years of fighting has killed 200 000 and driven more than 2,7-million from their homes.
Khartoum says 10 000 have died.
The conflict flared when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government accusing it of neglecting the development of the region.
Khartoum mobilised mostly Arab militias to crush the revolt and denies accusations from Washington and activists that it committed genocide during the counter-insurgency.—Reuters
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