- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

KHARTOUM, SUDAN (AP) - Thousands of chanting, singing people greeted the Sudanese president, who’s wanted for war crimes, as he returned Wednesday from his trip to the Arab League Summit in defiance of an international arrest warrant.

“We were confident with our relationship with our Arab brothers,” President Omar al-Bashir told reporters at a news conference in the airport in Khartoum. Al-Bashir later drove through the city surrounded by crowds of people dancing and singing, and posters in support.

The Sudanese leader’s trip to the summit in Doha, Qatar this week was a high-profile snub to the International Criminal Court’s March decision to issue an arrest warrant for al-Bashir over the ongoing conflict in Darfur.

Al-Bashir was embraced by the 22-member Arab League which decided not to enforce the arrest warrant. Only three Arab League countries _ not Qatar _ are signatories to the court’s founding treaty.

Many Arab and African countries have said that pursuing al-Bashir could further destabilize the region, and have thrown their support behind Sudan’s president.

The court accuses al-Bashir of orchestrating a counterinsurgency against Darfur rebels that has involved rapes, killings and other atrocities against civilians. His government has been accused of unleashing Arab militiamen in Darfur in a drive to put down a revolt by ethnic Africans in the western region.

Up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes since 2003, according to the U.N. Sudan says the U.N.’s figures are exaggerated.

Al-Bashir responded to the arrest warrant by expelling 13 foreign aid groups from Darfur, exposing hundreds of thousands of people already suffering from the six-year conflict to an even greater crisis.

“There is no coming back for those organizations,” said al-Bashir Wednesday. “We kicked those organizations out with full conviction for breaching our national security and even if they apologized, we won’t let them back.”

The Sudanese president also said he will continue traveling as needed.

The Sudanese president stopped in Saudi Arabia before returning to Sudan in order to perform a Muslim pilgrimage in Islam’s holiest city, Mecca.

The official Saudi Press Agency said that officials from Mecca’s Grand Mosque met al-Bashir Wednesday before he performed the minor pilgrimage, known as Omra.

The agency gave no further details about the visit, which came as Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was in London for the G-20 summit.

Omra is one of the lesser pilgrimages compared to the yearly Hajj that Muslims world over undertake.

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