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Arab League Summit Opens, Several Key Leaders Absent

A two-day Arab League Summit has convened in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. The summit fielded a disappointing turn-out of only 12 heads of state. The absence of 10 leaders was a blow to Sudanese calls for solidarity in the Arab world in the wake of western criticism.

The Arab League Summit kicked off in Khartoum, despite the absence of 10 Arab leaders. The no-shows include Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

Algerian President Abdel Aziz Buteflika gave an opening address to heads of state and those who attended in their absence.

Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir had reportedly hoped for a show of solidarity from the 22-member league in the wake of increasing international pressure. The United States and Europe have called for U.N. troops to intervene in Darfur, where an underfunded African Union mission is struggling to maintain a shaky cease-fire.

Sudan has forbidden any international intervention.

Sudan's Information Minister Zahawi Malik brushed aside reports that Sudan has alienated its Arab neighbors. Malik told VOA he is not concerned about the absence of key figures, including Sudan's ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"It is not the president who is going to represent the country. Those who can represent the country and who have the vision to carry on with the work of this assembly are warmly welcome. It does not matter if the president himself is to come. The president may have obligations which make it impossible for him to come," Malik noted.

According to news reports, some of the absent leaders cited security concerns, and others political differences with the Sudanese government as the reason for not attending the summit.

In addition, several Arab diplomats say the U.S. government asked friendly Arab leaders to stay away to prevent a show of support for the Sudanese government during the Darfur crisis.

Malik said the United States should not intervene in Arab affairs.

"It is a matter of sovereignty. The freedom of any African country or Arab leader is to reject what humiliates his country and humiliates him. America has to be concerned with such gatherings because it is now mastering the world. But I do not think that it can put its finger concerning the Arab will to do what the Arabs want to do," he added.

Key resolutions at this year's summit are reconciliation in Iraq and an appeal for additional funding by radical Palestinian organization Hamas. The Palestinian Authority lost U.S. and European support after a January election gave Hamas the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament. Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

This week's summit follows a tense African Union meeting in January in which Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir was denied the honorary AU chairmanship. African heads of state said Mr. Bashir needed to work harder to end the Darfur crisis.

The summit is to conclude Wednesday, but there have been some reports that heads of state will meet for the last time on Tuesday evening, due to the disappointing turnout.