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Sudanese President Bashir's visit to Turkey in limbo

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 11/8/2009 12:00:00 AM |

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has pushed back his planned visit to Turkey, Turkish aviation officials said on Sunday, adding that the controversial leader canceled his Sunday flight without any explanation.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has pushed back his planned visit to Turkey, Turkish aviation officials said on Sunday, adding that the controversial leader canceled his Sunday flight without any explanation.

It was not clear whether al-Bashir will come to Turkey on Monday or Tuesday for a summit of Islamic nations, the officials added, according to a report by the Doğan news agency.

The statement came hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended al-Bashir’s visit by saying, “A Muslim can never commit genocide.”

 “Those world leaders who criticize us, have they ever visited Darfur? Their information is solely based on what the rapporteurs are reporting. These kinds of moves will not contribute to world peace,” Erdoğan said Sunday in an address to party members.

 “It’s not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide,” he said. “That’s why we are comfortable [with the visit of al-Bashir].”

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, has issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, citing his alleged role in the atrocities perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan, which claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people. Turkey is among the few countries to have not yet ratified the Rome Statute, which requires compliance with ICC rulings.

The European Union asked Turkey on Friday to align its policy on the al-Bashir issue with that of Brussels and indirectly demanded the cancellation of the visit for the sake of the ongoing membership talks. In the meantime, international human rights organizations urged Turkey to arrest al-Bashir if he arrives in Istanbul.

 “We are aware of the fact that there are those who want to corner Turkey through al-Bashir’s visit. These people should know well our sensitivities about human rights violations. I went to Darfur myself. I want to ask: How many of these worlds leaders paid a visit to Sudan, to Darfur? I went there to see it with my own eyes,” Erdoğan said. Erdoğan added that he did not observe that genocide was being committed during his Darfur visit.

Al-Raed, a Sudanese newspaper widely considered an outlet for the National Congress Party, or NCP, said al-Bashir would fly from Egypt to Turkey on Monday, after concluding his participation in the fourth Forum of China-Africa Cooperation. The paper reported that the president was expected to arrive in Istanbul late Monday afternoon.

The European Union reiterated its position on al-Bashir to Turkey through a diplomatic note, which asked the Turkish government to align its policies with that of the 27-member bloc. Turkey responded harshly to the EU, saying al-Bashir was not arriving in Istanbul for a bilateral visit and that the invitation was made by the OIC.

According to diplomatic sources, there was an active diplomatic discussion in Ankara, Brussels and Washington over the weekend concerning al-Bashir’s visit. While Brussels and Washington pressed Turkey to cancel the visit, Ankara tried to keep a lid on reactions from the EU and the United States.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “It was really up to the government of Turkey” whether to allow the indicted president to attend a meeting of the OIC. Kelly also said Washington’s purpose was not to criticize Turkey but that it would expect Turkey to raise “Darfur issues” if it holds meetings with al-Bashir. But like Turkey, the United States also has yet to sign the Rome Statute.

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