Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday dismissed an international arrest warrant against him for war crimes, telling a mass rally in Khartoum that Western leaders were the real criminals.
"The true criminals are the leaders of the United States and Europe," Bashir told the crowds. Thousands of people joined the pro-Bashir demonstration, which followed a similar show of support on Wednesday for Bashir, who is accused by the ICC of masterminding a campaign of extermination, rape and pillage during the six-year conflict in Darfur.
Bashir earlier vowed to act "decisively" but responsibly against those who threaten his country's stability.
"We will act as a responsible government," he told a session of the country's top politicians and cabinet members in his first public response after the ICC issued the arrest warrant against him.
"We have expelled 10 foreign organizations ... after monitoring activities that act in contradiction to all regulation and laws," he said.
The ICC decision has created mixed international reaction. The United States welcomed the action but China urged the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to heed calls from African and Arab countries and suspend the case against Bashir.
"We hope that the Security Council will respect and heed the calls from the African Union, Arab League and non-aligned movement ... and request that the International Criminal Court suspend trying this case," said a Chinese government statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters: "Governments and individuals who either conduct or condone atrocities of any kind, as we have seen year after year in Sudan, have to be held accountable."
The Arab League said it would send a delegation to the U.N. Security Council to ask for a delay in implementing the warrant. The council has the power to defer ICC proceedings for up to one year at a time.
The Organization of Islamic Conference condemned the ICC decision and said in a statement late on Wednesday that such a decision might negatively impact ongoing efforts to solve the crisis in Darfur and could threaten stability in Sudan and the whole region.
The Secretary-General of the Jeddah-based organization Ekmeleddine Ihsanoglu called on the U.N. Security Council to block the ICC's move and urged the Sudanese government to speed up investigations of war crime suspects and put them on trial.
Sudan's decision to expel 10 leading international humanitarian organizations from Darfur was condemned by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said the action "represents a serious setback to lifesaving operations in Darfur" and urged Sudan to reverse its decision.
Ban "calls on the government of Sudan to continue to cooperate fully with all U.N. entities and their implementing partners, while fulfilling its obligation to ensure the safety and security of the civilian population, U.N. personnel and property, and that of its implementing partners," U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said, affirming that the United Nations intended to continue its activities in Sudan.
Aid groups protested, saying they had no connection to the court and that their absence could lead to a crisis for more than 2 million war-weary Sudanese who need such basics as shelter, food and clean water.
The head of one aid group said that they were "told to leave the country within 24 hours."
The foreign agencies provide essential aid to the estimated 2.7 million people made homeless by the war in Darfur.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power, while Khartoum says 10,000 have died. A further 2.7 million people are estimated to have been uprooted by the conflict.
More regional turmoil
The ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes in Darfur could spark more regional turmoil. The warrant is the first issued against a sitting head of state by the Hague-based ICC.
The ICC, set up in 2002, indicted Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which included murder, rape and torture. The three-judge panel said it had insufficient grounds for genocide.
"His victims are the very civilians that he as a president was supposed to protect," ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters, adding that Sudan was obliged to execute the warrant. "It could be in two months or two years, but he will face justice."
Bashir, 65, has dismissed the allegations made by the ICC, the world's first permanent court for prosecuting war crimes, as part of a Western conspiracy.
"It is a flawed decision," said Sudanese presidential spokesman Mahjoub Fadul. "We do not recognize it."
Sudan's under-secretary of foreign affairs, Mutrif Siddiq, said Bashir planned to attend an Arab summit in Qatar later this month despite the warrant.
The ICC said it expected enforcement of the arrest warrant by countries party to the Rome Statute that set up the court and United Nations member nations.