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World Divided on ICC Arrest Warrant for Sudan's President

Reactions from world leaders and officials were mixed Wednesday as the International Criminal Court announced an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has so-far disregarded the ICC warrant

Western nations and human rights groups broadly backed the decision, calling for cooperation from the Sudanese government. While a chorus of Arab and African states said the warrant could risk further destabilizing the fragile peace process in Sudan.

In the Sudanese capital Khartoum, thousands of al-Bashir supporters rallied in angry reaction to the decision, shouting anti-ICC slogans, while the country's government labeled the arrest warrant as "neo-colonialism," the Al-Arabiya news network reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yusuf Ali said al-Bashir would attend an Arab summit in Qatar later March despite the international arrest warrant, German news agency DPA reported.

AU calls for suspension

On Thursday, the 53-nation African Union (AU) said it would send a delegation to the UN in New York in a bid to have the ICC proceedings suspended.

"The AU's position is that we support the fight against impunity, we cannot let crime perpetrators go unpunished," AU commission chairman Jean Ping told news agency AFP. "But we say that peace and justice should not collide, that the need for justice should not override the need for peace."

The AU leader said Africa was being selectively targeted.

"What we see is that international justice seems to be applying its fight against impunity only to Africa as if nothing were happening elsewhere -- in Iraq, Gaza, Colombia or in the Caucasus."

The ICC issued an international arrest warrant for al-Bashir on Wednesday on seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. It was the first time the body has sought the arrest of a sitting president.

According to UN estimates up to 300,000 people have died since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime in 2003. The UN says that around 2.7 million people have been displaced because of the conflict. The government in Khartoum rejects these figures and any claims of genocide.

Russia, China skeptical

China's President Hu Jintao, second right, meets with Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, left

China and Sudan have a resources-based relationship

Uganda's Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa said a one-year suspension of the arrest warrant was necessary "in order to balance getting rid of impunity and getting a sustainable peace in Darfur."

The Arab League meanwhile said it was "very disturbed" and "dismayed that the UN Security Council did not delay the court proceedings."

There was skepticism in Moscow's reaction to the warrant, with a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman also warning that the ICC decision could further destabilize the situation in Sudan. China likewise refused to give its backing to the decision, instead saying the issuance of the warrant was regretful and concerning to Beijing.

"China expresses its regretfulness and worry over the arrest warrant for the Sudan president issued by the International Criminal Court," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

Qin called on the UN Security Council to "respect calls by the African Union, Arab League and Non-Aligned Movement... and call on the International Criminal Court not to hear this case for the time being."

China buys two-thirds of Sudan's petroleum exports and has been criticized for not using more of its leverage with the country to push for improved human rights conditions there.

European support

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sudan should respect the ICC decision

In the West, meanwhile, reactions varied from cautiously accepting the warrant to urging Sudan to comply.

The Czech presidency of the European Union said Wednesday it supported the International Criminal Court in The Hague after it issued the warrant for al-Bashir.

"The EU reiterates its full support and respect for the International Criminal Court and its key role in the promotion of international justice," it said in a statement released Wednesday evening in Prague.

The Czech Republic noted the 2005 UN Security Council resolution that called on Sudan and other parties to cooperate with the ICC in its efforts. The Czech presidency also called on the government of Sudan and the Darfur rebels to protect the civilian population, to respect human rights and humanitarian law.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Wednesday for Sudan to respect the arrest warrant. "The ICC is the guarantor that serious crimes don't remain unpunished and the victims don't remain unredeemed. I therefore challenge Sudan to respect the decision of the ICC and react in a considerate manner."

US backing

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said al-Bashir can contest the warrant

In Washington, the US urged the Sudanese government and rebel groups to show restraint in the wake of the ICC decision.

"The United States is strongly committed to the pursuit of peace in Sudan and believes those who have committed atrocities should be held accountable for their crimes," said Gordon Duguid, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "The ICC has issued an indictment based on a very long investigation and it is now in a judicial system, properly so.

"President Bashir will have a chance to have his day in court. If he believes that the indictment is wrongly charged, he can certainly contest it," she told reporters travelling with her to Brussels.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also welcomed the ICC arrest warrant, with the group saying it "signals that even those at the top may be held accountable for mass murder, rape and torture.

"Not even presidents are guaranteed a free pass for horrific crimes," HRW International Justice Program director Richard Dicker was quoted as saying in a statement.

UN calls for peace

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has not called directly for al-Bashir's surrender

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Sudanese government on Wednesday to cooperate with the joint UN- African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur despite the issuance of the arrest warrant against al-Bashir.

In a statement in reaction to the decision, Ban did not explicitly demand that Khartoum surrender the Sudanese leader to the ICC, but called on Khartoum to "address the issues of peace and justice" in a manner consistent with the 2005 resolution in which the UN Security Council referred the case of Darfur killing to the international court.

The resolution called on governments to fully cooperate with the court even if they were not signatories to the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

Ban focused his demand on the Sudanese government to "fully cooperate with all UN entities and their implementing partners, while fulfilling its obligation to ensure the safety and security of the civilian population, UN personnel and property, and that of its implementing partners.

"The secretary general calls on all parties to work in good faith toward a political solution to end the conflict in Darfur," he said in a statement.

A UN-AU mission currently has 15,179 total uniformed personnel in Darfur, including 12,359 troops, 181 military observers, 2,639 police officers.

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