In Darfur, street protests over Bashir arrest warrant
International aid groups fear the Sudanese government will respond by putting up more obstacles to their relief work.
EL FASHER, SUDAN
The angry crowd had one thing on its mind.Skip to next paragraph
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Speaker after speaker shouted their defiance Wednesday before a fist-waving audience of about 2,000 people in the center of El Fasher, the dusty capital of North Darfur. The city is a hub for international aid being distributed in the region.
The crowd assembled about an hour after the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague had announced that it was issuing its first-ever warrant for the arrest of a sitting president: Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir.
They arrived on foot – chanting and waving placards that read "Down with Ocampo" and "Stop the Conspiracy" – or in government buses.
Mr. Ocampo is the chief prosecutor at the ICC.
They heard from a succession of government officials and community leaders, who all voiced their anger.
"We are ready to set up camps to train our youths to defend our country against America and the enemies of Islam," Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, head of El Fasher's police. "We are with you President Bashir and are ready to die for you."
A sea of raised fists greeted every word.
There were similar scenes in Khartoum, where banner-waving crowds massed on the banks of the Nile, chanting, "We love you President Bashir," and trampling on portraits of Ocampo.
The public outcry was not unexpected. Embassies had warned foreign nationals to stock up on water and essentials and stay home Wednesday. Charity offices closed for the day and the United Nations sent nonessential staff home.
Certainly, there is genuine popular outrage over the arrest warrant, but the government-led protests organized around the country seemed a little lackluster, a little routine. They will allow the Bashir government to cite "public anger" with the ICC, while fighting the charges and keeping its options open too.
Most people here are waiting to see what comes next. Diplomats in Khartoum say the regime's real reaction will take weeks to emerge. Much will depend on how the world now treats a president accused of war crimes, they say.