Demonstrators in the Sudanese capital have been protesting against the warrant[AFP]

Hundreds of Sudanese have demonstrated in support of Omar al-Bashir, shouting insults against the International Criminal Court (ICC), which issued an arrest warrant for the president on charges of Darfur war crimes.

Crowds waved pictures of al-Bashir and denounced Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the most senior ICC prosecutor, as a "pig" and a "coward" at the protest in the capital, Khartoum.

Abdel Basit Sabdarat, Sudan's justice minister, vowed his country would not co-operate with the ICC after the arrest warrant was issued.

"We will not deal with this court," he told Al-Jazeera. "It has no jurisdiction, it is a political decision."

Mikhail Margelov, Russia's envoy to Sudan, said on Wednesday that the ICC's decision set a "dangerous precedent".

"The untimely decision of the International Criminal Court creates a dangerous precedent in the system of international relations and could have a negative effect both on the situation inside Sudan and on the general regional situation," the Russian state RIA-Novosti agency quoted him as saying.

Egypt said it was "greatly disturbed" by the warrant, the state-news agency MENA reported, while France urged Sudan to "fully co-operate" with the ICC, Eric Chevallier, a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday.

Ali Ahmed Karti, Sudan's deputy foreign minister, said in Cairo on Wednesday that Sudan "absolutely rejects" the ICC decision, while Mustafa Osman Ismail, a Sudanese presidential adviser, said the warrant would threaten to destabilise the country even further.

"They do not want Sudan to become stable... The court is only one mechanism of neo-colonialist policy used by the West against free and independent countries."

'Regional victory'

Abdel Wahid Mohammed Nur, a leader of Darfur's rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), hailed the warrant as a victory for his region.

Sudanese protesting outside their home country are supporting the ICC warrant [AFP] 
"It is a great victory for the victims of Darfur and Sudan," Nur said from Paris, where he has been living in exile.

"Anybody who commits genocide will know that the world is not any longer a place for him to be free," he said.

A founding father of Darfur's rebellion, Nur leads a faction of the SLM that has been fighting the Khartoum government since 2003.

"The people of Darfur and Sudan are very happy that those who commit genocide - Bashir and his cabinet - will not escape justice any more.

"There is a great hope that the ongoing killings will stop."

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Sudan's western Darfur region in 2003.

The African Union (AU) said the ICC's arrest warrant could threaten an ailing peace process in Sudan.

Jean Ping, the AU's Commission chairman, said: "[The] AU's position is that we support the fight against impunity, we cannot let crime perpetrators go unpunished.

"But we say that peace and justice should not collide, that the need for justice should not override the need for peace."

Ping said that Africa was being selectively targeted by the court.

"What we see is that international justice seems to be applying its fight against impunity only to Africa as if nothing were happening elsewhere, [such as] in Iraq, Gaza, Colombia or in the Caucasus."

Calls for restraint

The US state department called for "restraint" from all groups in Sudan after the ICC's issuance.

Robert Wood, a state department spokesman, said: "The United States believes that those who have committed atrocities should be brought to justice as the ICC process continues.

"We urge restraint on the part of all parties including the government of Sudan. Further violence against civilian Sudanese or foreign interests must be avoided and will not be tolerated."

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the warrant signalled "that even those at the top may be held to account for mass murder, rape and torture".

Richard Dicker, director of the international justice programme at HRW, said: "With this arrest warrant, the International Criminal Court has made Omar al-Bashir a wanted man.

"Not even presidents are guaranteed a free pass for horrific crimes. By ruling there is a case for President al-Bashir to answer for the horrors of Darfur, the warrant breaks through Khartoum's repeated denials of his responsibility."

Amnesty International hailed the international arrest warrant as an "important signal" to suspected human rights violators around the world, calling on al-Bashir to surrender himself to The Hague-based ICC.

Irene Khan, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said: "The law is clear. President al-Bashir must appear before the ICC to defend himself.

"If he refuses to do so, the Sudanese authorities must ensure that he is arrested and surrendered immediately to the ICC."

Bashir, 65, faces five charges of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies