More than a thousand angry demonstrators chanting anti-western slogans massed in Khartoum on Thursday in the biggest protest yet against the International Criminal Court’s indictment of the Sudanese president for genocide in Darfur.
By Barney Jopson in Khartoum
It signalled the government was stepping up the second part of its twin track response to the indictment of Omar al-Bashir, which combines rallying diplomatic opposition to the court overseas and stoking public indignation at home to boost support for the president.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC’s prosecutor, asked judges to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir on Monday as he filed evidence that he said showed the president was responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.
Demonstrators arriving outside Khartoum’s Republican Palace on Thursday morning were handed placards showing Mr Moreno-Ocampo’s face covered with a red cross and as speakers fired up the crowd they began to tear up his picture and chant “Death to Ocampo”.
The demonstration, which included old men in swirling white robes, young men in western-style shirts, and women swathed in pink and yellow, was organised by the ruling National Congress party.
In its official response to the indictments, which ICC judges will rule on in the next few months, the government has sought to isolate Mr Moreno-Ocampo from the United Nations and paint him as a renegade.
Its goal is to win enough support – particularly from Africa, the Middle East, Russia and China – to persuade the UN Security Council to use its powers to defer the ICC proceedings for 12 months. Critics off the indictments say they will shut off any chance of ending the Darfur conflict through negotiation with the government.
Inside Sudan the National Congress party is sending out a different message, which one western diplomat says leaves it “treading a fine line”. The party has allowed criticism of the ICC to morph into anti-western sentiment that meshes with its narrative of a US-led conspiracy to destabilise Sudan.
One speaker on Thursday told protestors “We will fight any foreigner who comes to Darfur” and armed police had to step in to repel a group of around 60 agitated young men who turned on the only two western journalists covering the demonstration.
The UN has temporarily withdrawn non-essential staff from Darfur, but a joint UN/African Union peacekeeping force is still operating. One of its troops was killed in a carjacking on Wednesday.
The National Congress party heads a hardline regime, but experts say it is held together only by the desire of its members to stay in power. It has been made more vulnerable by the ICC indictments and an unprecedented attack on Khartoum by Darfur rebels in May.
Regardless of their feelings toward Mr Bashir, some Sudanese describe the indictments as an affront to the whole country. But in spite of rapid headline economic growth fuelled by oil revenue, many feel their lives have not improved since the president came to power in a bloodless coup in 1989.
“I will not go to the streets and say ‘Down, down USA’ if it means leaving my family hungry,” said one woman affiliated with the opposition Democratic Unionist Party.
According to UN estimates, some 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5m forced from their homes since conflict began five years ago in Darfur between the government and rebels fighting against the region’s marginalisation.