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Bashir calls for Arab support against ICC warrant

Latest update : 2009-03-30

The presence of ICC-indicted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir poses a challenge for leaders meeting at an Arab summit in Doha on Monday. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced he would boycott the event.

Reuters - The appearance of Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir at an Arab summit on Monday, flouting an international arrest warrant, overshadowed efforts to heal Arab rifts over how to handle Iran.

Bashir flew into the small Gulf Arab state on Sunday after visits to Egypt, Eritrea and Libya in the weeks since the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted him on charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the summit on Monday, Bashir urged Arab leaders meeting in Doha to reject the indictment and accused Israel of backing rebels in Darfur.

“We appreciate your support and hope it will lead to strong and clear resolutions .... that reject this resolution and call for its cancellation,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called on the summit to express unequivocal support for Bashir.

“We are called upon today to reject the warrant categorically and to express absolute support for Sudan at this stage,” he said. “What is happening to Sudan now is another chapter in the effort to weaken the Arabs ... and another stage in the effort to break up Sudan.”

Arab states were quick to rally around Bashir last month.  Some cited the absence of international measures against Israel over its three-week war on Gaza that killed 1,300 Palestinians.  Arabs generally see a double-standard applied.

But after the demise of Saddam Hussein, international justice for Sudan’s leader would be another cause for concern for Arab leaders accused by rights groups of repression.

Qatar, which hosts a key U.S. military base, said last week it had faced unspecified pressure not to receive Bashir but its prime minister flew to Khartoum to repeat the invitation.

Officials in Doha said Saudi Arabia had pressed the summit of 22 Arab League nations to offer strong support for Sudan.

Bashir adviser Mustafa Osman Ismail told reporters in Doha:
“We expect this popular uprising of support for Sudan, not just in the Arab world, to be translated into a strong resolution that meets the hopes of the Arab street.”

Arab splits

Qatar, a major natural gas power, has billed the summit as a chance for reconciliation among Arab states over a series of regional conflicts linked to non-Arab Shi’ite power Iran.

Arab governments have struggled to respond to Iran’s political clout since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought long-oppressed Shi’ite Muslims to power there.

But Qatar, with ambitions to be a major regional powerbroker, has maintained close links with Iran, despite U.S.  and Arab pressure to keep its distance from a country they suspect of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

The Egyptian and Saudi leaders see Iran’s hand behind the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories—Islamist groups that refuse to renounce armed action in the historic Arab conflict with Israel.

On Monday, an apparent effort by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to patch up ties with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah monarch was regarded as an attack.

“It has been six years that you have been running away and scared of confrontation and I want to say do not be afraid....  the grave is before you, it is Britain that made you and the Americans that protected you,” said Gaddafi, before being shouted down by the Qatari host.

But he continued in a conciliatory tone, drawing applause from delegates: “I consider the personal problem between you and me to be over and I am prepared to visit you and receive a visit from you.”

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak stayed away because of rancour over Qatar’s attempt to rally Arabs and Iran behind Hamas during Israel’s war on Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas. But King Abdullah, attending despite Saudi misgivings over Qatari policy on Iran, has reconciliation as a priority.

Riyadh, which regards itself as the bastion of mainstream Sunni Islam, fears Washington will end its conflict with Iran at the expense of its traditional oil-for-security ally.

Assad said the Arab peace initiative to end the conflict with Israel was still on the table but accused Israel of becoming more extremist, with ethnic cleansing ambitions.

“When the conditions are there the initiative can be activated and anyone who wants to promote it must convince us that there really is a partner interested in peace,” he said.

“Israel sees its future in removing the Palestinians to an alternative homeland,” he said. “Israeli society is becoming more extremist and aggressive.”

Date created : 2009-03-30