July 16, 2008

UN Warns Sudan Staff Against Protesters Thousands Expected to Support President

The United Nations urged its staff to stay home Tuesday as thousands of Sudanese prepared to protest war-crimes charges leveled against their president by an international prosecutor.

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor asked judges Monday to grant an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al- Bashir for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Protests so far have been staged by pro-government bodies, but even Sudanese who traditionally oppose Bashir have backed him against the court, based in The Hague. Demonstrators have hung pictures of Bashir on the walls of the UN headquarters in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, and the British Embassy.

UN security officials told hundreds of nonessential staff to stay home Tuesday before the expected protests.

The Sudanese vice president, Ali Osman Muhammad Taha, called the international court's move "irresponsible, illegal and unprofessional," saying the charge was part of a conspiracy to prevent Sudan from being a normal member of the international community.

The African Union's peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, traveled overnight to Sudan and met Bashir on Tuesday.

He said Sudan had requested an emergency foreign ministers meeting of the Peace and Security Council, which he expected would take place before the end of the week.

Asked about the Hague court's charge, Lamamra said: "The targeting of African officials is unacceptable."

African Union officials have expressed concern that the court's first four cases have only addressed African conflicts.

A group was formed on the social networking site Facebook to support Bashir after the announcement of the charges and within a few hours it had attracted almost 1,000 Sudanese at home and abroad.

"I am someone who doesn't agree with Bashir and the way he runs the country," the group's creator, Ahmed Hashim Ibrahim, wrote. "But when there is a challenge to the nation and its sovereignty, it's another issue."

"A beast may kill one revolutionary but the earth will bear forth a thousand more," he added.

The Sudanese government has reassured international workers it will ensure their safety, but the United Nations raised security levels in Khartoum and Darfur before the court's announcement, fearing a violent backlash.

The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission said it would also begin relocating some nonessential staff, although core operations would continue.

Originally published by Reuters.

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