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Sudan leader dismisses war crimes

SUDAN'S president yesterday told thousands of cheering supporters an international call for his arrest on war crimes charges was a ploy by western nations set on grabbing the country's oil.

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the first sitting president to be charged by the International Criminal Court, responded to his indictment over the conflict in the western Darfur region by ordering 10 foreign aid agencies to leave Sudan.

Authorities accused the aid groups of passing information to the ICC on alleged atrocities in Darfur, center of the world's largest humanitarian operation, and one official said three more agencies may be sent home.

The agencies expressed outrage, denying any links with the ICC and saying their expulsion put thousands of lives at risk.

Bashir said the Hague-based ICC was a tool of imperialists targeting Sudan for its oil, natural gas and other resources.

"We have refused to kneel to colonialism, that is why Sudan has been targeted ... because we only kneel to God," he told a crowd outside the Republican Palace.

The African Union said it would send a high-level delegation to press the Security Council to delay the indictment for a year to give the peace process in Darfur a chance.

Sudan expert Alex de Waal said the indictment could wreck delicately balanced peace efforts between north and south Sudan and in Darfur.

People were misguided if they thought the court would encourage Sudanese politicians to replace Bashir in a coup or bring about a quick resolution to the Darfur conflict, he wrote, adding that "I cannot see a political way out of this mess."

The ICC, set up in 2002 by international statute and not part of the United Nations, indicted Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.


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