ADDIS ABABA, Mar 5 – The African Union opened an emergency meeting over the arrest warrant on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir which it says will hurt an ailing peace process in the troubled country.
The bloc’s Peace and Security Council members began the closed door meeting at its Addis Ababa headquarters a day after the International Criminal Court issued the warrants.
The 53-member body had called for the deferment of the court’s action against Bashir and on Wednesday expressed concern at the decision to issue the warrant.
In a statement, the AU Commission chief Jean Ping said he was "deeply concerned at the far-reaching consequences of this decision, which comes at a critical juncture in the process to promote lasting peace…in the Sudan."
Meanwhile in Khartoum thousands of people joined a mass demonstration in protest at the international arrest warrant, an AFP correspondent said.
The rally followed a similar show of support on Wednesday for Bashir, who is accused by the International Criminal Court of masterminding a campaign of extermination, rape and pillage during the six-year conflict in Darfur.
Khartoum has vowed not to cooperate with court and received backing from its southern neighbour Ethiopia which said it would disregard the warrant.
China called Thursday for the case against Bashir to be suspended, as it expressed concern over the arrest warrant.
The reaction to the historic warrant issued on Wednesday for alleged war crimes was in line with China’s long-time support for Bashir’s government that has drawn much criticism in the West.
"China expresses its regret and worry over the arrest warrant for the Sudan president issued by the International Criminal Court," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
Qin called on the UN Security Council to "respect calls by the African Union, Arab League and Non-Aligned Movement… and urged the International Criminal Court not to hear this case for the time being."
Bshir, 65, became the first sitting president to be issued with an ICC arrest warrant and faces five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.
The UN says up to 300,000 people have died and displaced some 2.5 million from their villages since the Darfur conflict broke out in February 2003. The Sudanese government puts the death toll at 10,000.