Sudan; Bashir standing strong in face of possible war crimes warrant, but many fear turmoil

February 26, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Posted in Africa | 1 Comment
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Sudan’s president is rallying support at home, seeking to show he can stand strong in the face of a possible international order for his arrest on charges of war crimes in Darfur. But many fear an arrest warrant could throw this deeply divided nation into turmoil.

New posters of President Omar al-Bashir line the airport road, proclaiming him the “people’s choice” who won’t be hurt by “conspiracies” like the warrant. Supporters — from generals to mothers with newborns — have been lining up at his palace and his visits around the country vowing to protect him.

The International Criminal Court plans to announce March 4 whether it will issue a warrant on charges that al-Bashir masterminded a campaign of murder, torture and rape by Sudan’s army and Arab militias in Darfur, where Khartoum has been fighting ethnic African rebels since 2003.

The world’s first permanent war crimes court has never issued a warrant against a sitting head of state, and if it does name al-Bashir no one is sure what might happen next in this nation with a history of civil wars and military coups.

Many worry Sudan’s leadership would fear losing its grip on power and launch a violent backlash against opponents. That could worsen the bloodshed in the western Darfur region or wreck a fragile 4-year-old peace deal in the long-rebellious south, throwing the country back into civil war or even tearing it to pieces.

Some people talk of a coup against al-Bashir by rivals within the ruling elite. Others worry about retaliation against U.N. peacekeepers or international aid workers.

The government says al-Bashir won’t deal with the Hague-based court, and it has made clear that any talk of him surrendering for trial won’t be tolerated. The only politician who dared publicly urge that, senior opposition leader Hassan Turabi, has been detained for over a month.

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