Thousands demonstrated in support of Sudan's president in Khartoum, a day after the International Criminal Court approved an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir. President Bashir lashed out at the court's efforts, calling them neo-colonialist.
For the second day in a row, crowds in Sudan's capital Khartoum gathered to show their support for President Omar al-Bashir, shouting slogans and brandishing signs criticizing the International Criminal Court and its chief prosecutor.
Dancing and waving his famous cane in front of the crowd, President Bashir railed against the court and its supporters, accusing them of trying to exploit Sudan and its resources. "We do not kneel to colonialism," he said. He said the government would combat any attempts to destabilize the country.
A journalist with Khartoum's Al-Akhbar newspaper, Maaz Alnugom, estimated the crowd at five- or six-thousand. He told VOA that small crowds had also tried to protest in front of the U.S. Embassy and other missions, but had been turned away by police. Security has been ratcheted up in the capital, particularly around western diplomatic missions.
Jimmy Kawanjara, a Kenyan shop owner in Khartoum, said the atmosphere was tense among foreigners, who have been told by their governments to stay inside. But he said the protests were peaceful.
"The demonstrations are very peaceful," said Kawanjara. "They have the government backing, so we are not expecting to see any violence with police fighting demonstrators."
Alnugom said most of the people at Thursday's rally were members of the president's National Congress Party.
"That does not mean those are the majority of the people in Sudan," he said. "We have many parties, we have government parties and anti-government people. Many people support the court, but nobody can declare this view."
Further protests are planned for the capital on Friday and President Bashir is expected to visit the Darfur region on Sunday.
Sudanese officials have said they will lead a diplomatic effort to suspend the ICC warrant. The African Union, which has opposed the warrant, was meeting in Addis Ababa on Thursday. And China's government called for the warrant to be withdrawn.
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the former rebel group now in control of the semi-autonomous government of South Sudan, and a partner with Bashir's party in the national government, reaffirmed its support for the president. While there is little sympathy for the president in the south, many southern leaders fear that his removal could jeopardize the fragile peace agreement signed between the two sides in 2005.
The Umma party in the north also affirmed its opposition to the warrant, saying Darfur crimes should be tried within Sudan.
The warrant was greeted enthusiastically, however, by many in Darfur's refugee camps, and by Darfur rebel groups. The Justice and Equality Movement, the region's most powerful faction, said it would not participate in further negotiations, saying the government is now illegitimate.
The Sudanese government also announced the expulsion of ten international aid agencies, including Oxfam, Save the Children, and International Rescue Committee, from Darfur, and there were reports that more groups could follow.