Sudan's Bashir says new plane defies sanctions

Sun Jul 5, 2009 3:00pm EDT

KHARTOUM, July 5 (Reuters) - Sudan's president said on Sunday sanctions could not block development in his country, as he unveiled its first home-manufactured aircraft -- a $15,000 training plane that runs on car fuel.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir spoke at the latest in a string of defiant rallies mounted after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him in March, to face charges of masterminding atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region.

Bashir has repeatedly sought to highlight his government's development record since the court ruling, speaking this year at the opening of a hydroelectric dam, a new bridge in Khartoum and Sudan's first ethanol plant, among other projects.

On Sunday he spoke at the launch of the Safat-01 aircraft, a two-seater propeller plane produced at Sudan's state Safat Aviation Complex, part of the country's Ministry of Defence, according to its website.

"Sudan has its own military industry. It makes tanks, missiles and many types of guns, all made by Sudanese hands," Bashir told hundreds of supporters outside the plant in Wadi Sayidina military area, north of the capital.

"Today, Sudan has entered a new industry -- aviation," he added.

Bashir did not mention the global court directly, or the Western governments he says are supporting the legal case.

But he told the crowd in local dialect "What we are doing will enrage our enemies," adding "sanctions cannot stop development."

He added: "They conspired, they supported rebellions, and created rebellions. They pushed neighbouring countries, they imposed economic, diplomatic and political sanctions and what was the result? Everyday, thanks to God, his strength and power, we are moving forward."

The United States stepped up sanctions against in Sudan in 1997, accusing the government of human rights abuses and supporting terrorism, then tightening the restrictions still further in 2006 over the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

The sanctions blocked most trade with the United States. But Sudan's economy was boasting double digit annual growth before the global economic slump, boosted by continuing investment from China and the Middle East.

The United Nations has also imposed an arms embargo, covering all warring parties in the Darfur conflict, while the European Union has an arms embargo covering the whole country.

Sudan's Ministry of Defence in 2007 said the country had become self-sufficient in conventional weapons and was hoping develop its own unmanned surveillance planes.

Managers at the Safat plant told state media before the launch the Safat-01 would be the first in a range of aircraft produced in Sudan and would be used for training, without specifying who would be trained.

Up to 80 per cent of the parts would be made in Sudan, with the remaining work done by Chinese and Russian partners Safat director Brigadier Mirghani Idris told Sudan's state Suna news agency. The plane would use car fuel and be used for training.

(Reporting by Khaled Abdel Aziz, writing by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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