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Sudan's Bashir Arrives in China Amid International Intrigue


Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir (L) waves to supporters during a visit to Osaef town in Sudan's Red Sea state, June 20, 2011

Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir (L) waves to supporters during a visit to Osaef town in Sudan's Red Sea state, June 20, 2011

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is in China for a visit following a mysterious delay blamed by Sudanese officials on U.S.-backed pressure.

Chinese officials said after Mr. Bashir's arrival early Tuesday that a meeting with President Hu Jintao - originally set for Monday evening - will now take place Wednesday. It was not clear whether the visit will be extended beyond the scheduled Thursday departure.

Sudan's Foreign Ministry said Mr. Bashir was en route to China Monday when authorities in Turkmenistan ordered a change in his plane's flight path. The country's official news agency, SUNA, quoted a top ruling party official as saying he believes the original flight permission was withdrawn as a result of pressure from the United States.

National Congress chairman Qutbi al Mahdi was quoted as saying Washington had pressured Beijing to cancel Mr. Bashir's visit. There has been no comment from the U.S.

The Sudanese president is wanted for trial for war crimes by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The charges, the first to be leveled by the court against a sitting head of state, relate to Sudan's handling of an uprising in its western state of Darfur. About 300,000 people have died in the conflict since 2003.

China, which has major oil interests in Sudan, has not signed the treaty creating the court. It says it seeks to consolidate and expand relations with Mr. Bashir's government.

In Khartoum, the Sudan Tribune newspaper quoted government sources as saying Mr. Bashir's plane was in the air over Turkmenistan when overflight permission was withdrawn and the plane was given a new flight path. It says Sudan's foreign minister and director of intelligence, who were on the plane, rejected the new flight path fearing a plot to apprehend Mr. Bashir.

The newspaper said the pilot instead returned to Iran, where Mr. Bashir had been attending a conference on terrorism. There, officials worked out a new flight path over Pakistan.

Earlier this week, Mr. Bashir said in an interview with China's official Xinhua news agency that his country found a "true partner" in China after international sanctions forced Western oil companies to cut back their operations in Sudan.

During his talks with Mr. Hu, Mr. Bashir is expected to discuss the impact of the secession of southern Sudan, which is to become an independent country on July 9. The south will retain a major part of Sudan's oil resources.

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