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Sudanese Leader Will Not Attend Islamic Meeting in Turkey


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Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has canceled a planned visit to Turkey to attend a summit of the Islamic conference in Istanbul. Turkey has faced mounting criticism from the international community for its invitation to the Sudanese leader, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Since Turkey announced that Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir would be attending the summit of Islamic Conference in Istanbul, controversy has grown. The invitation was in defiance of a warrant from the International Criminal Court for al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region.

Turkey does not recognize the Court's authority.

Late Sunday, Sudan's state news agency reported al-Bashir postponed his trip to return to Khartoum to discuss a deadlock over election laws with his coalition partners, the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement.

According to news reports, the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, sent a diplomatic note calling for Ankara to retract its invitation to al-Bashir. But Turkish President Abdullah Gul rejected the call, saying it was an interference in Turkey's affairs.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the charges against al-Bashir, drawing on his experience from his visit to Sudan.

"We could not come to the conclusion that there was a genocide [during our trip], as it is stated," he said. He says African countries also are absolutely not agreeing with such a claim. He says African countries sided and are siding with al-Bashir on this matter.

Ankara has been steadily improving its relations with Khartoum, diplomatically and economically. Last year al-Bashir visited Turkey in defiance of international criticism.

Mr. Erdogan addressed a meeting of his party supporters during the weekend, dismissing criticism against him for the invitation.

There people trying to make black propaganda against us for this meeting, but it will not work. He said it is not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide.

Observers say behind the scenes diplomatic pressure has been increasing. According to Turkish reports al-Bashir's last-minute decision not to attend was to help Turkey avoid a diplomatic crisis.

Turkey, which heads the 57 nation Islamic Conference this year, is developing ties with Muslim countries, including its neighbor Iran. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is attending the meeting .

Political scientists and newspaper columnist Nuray Mert says Turkish support for the Sudanese president could be part of a wider policy.

"It may be easily read as another sign or another message, of pursing your own independent policy," Mert said.

Turkey along with being an EU candidate country is a member of NATO and has strong ties with the United states. But according to observers, the Islamic-rooted ruling party of the secular government appears increasingly prepared to pursue a more assertive and independent foreign policy.

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