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Concern Growing in Sudan over Attempt to Charge President

Demonstrations are expected in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to protest the decision of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) chief prosecutor to bring war crimes charges against President Omar al-Bashir. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the announcement has been greeted with concern by many in Sudan, including opposition party leaders and the former southern rebels sharing power in the national government.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has requested a warrant to arrest President Omar al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

Thousands of people participated in government-organized protests in support of President Omar al-Bashir during the weekend, and further demonstrations are expected in Khartoum.

But many Sudanese groups often hostile to the ruling National Congress Party are also expressing concern about the charges against the president.

"We think that a lot of atrocities [were] committed in Darfur," said Abdel Nabi Ali Ahmed, secretary-general of the opposition Umma Party. "And those who are responsible for these atrocities must be brought before justice. But then, also, we have to take into consideration that the last announcement most probably will make a havoc situation in the Sudan, where the system is now very fragile and the possibility of a total collapse of the state is highly anticipated."

He said Sudan should be given more time to resolve its problems internally, with more participation from the general public.

"Up to now the international community does not take into consideration the masses of the Sudanese, always talking about the rebels and the government," he added. "And that is why the situation is very complicated, because it is high time that the masses of the Sudanese should address their own problems. So what do we suggest? A national conference with certain agenda which should be attended by all the Sudanese, the parties, the rebels, and others to find the way out."

The Umma and other opposition parties in northern Sudan have long complained that they have been sidelined by peace negotiations between the government and rebels, whether in the south or in Darfur.

The former southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), who have shared power with the National Congress Party in a tense coalition government since a 2005 peace agreement, have also raised concern with the pursuit of the Bashir indictment.

Riek Machar is vice president of Sudan's semi-autonomous southern region, which is run by the former rebels.

"This is regrettable that the prosecutor general has requested warrants of indictment of President Bashir," he said. "When the ICC prosecutor general indicted two Sudanese officials, our attitude in the SPLM was to advise the National Congress, which is headed by President Bashir, that they should engage the ICC. And this to avert what has happened now, but this has happened."

Machar says is optimistic that the implementation of the peace agreement, including national elections scheduled for next year, will go ahead.

Meanwhile, U.N. mission spokesman Brian Kelly says some staff members are leaving Darfur, with fears of retaliation against Western operations in the country

"There is a temporary relocation of non-essential staff, some may be relocated to neighboring countries, and some internally within various sectors in Darfur," he said. "The security situation is monitored and assessed on a regular basis, so there is an ongoing review of the security situation."

He says non-essential staff in Khartoum have been told to stay home, but operations in southern Sudan have not been affected.

Security fears in Darfur were already high after gunmen ambushed a U.N.-African Union patrol in Darfur last week, killing seven peacekeepers. The United Nations says its peacekeeping operations are continuing as normal.