WASHINGTON Hollywood movie star George Clooney was arrested at Sudan's embassy in Washington on Friday at a protest of an escalating emergency as Sudan blocks humanitarian aid from reaching a volatile border region where hundreds of thousands of people are short of food.
Clooney, his father Nick and other anti-Sudan activists ignored three police warnings to leave the embassy grounds and were led away in plastic handcuffs to a waiting van by uniformed members of the Secret Service, a Reuters journalist covering the demonstration said.
"We need humanitarian aid to be allowed into the Sudan before it becomes the worst humanitarian crisis in the world," Clooney told reporters just before his arrest.
"The second thing we are here to ask is for the government in Khartoum to stop randomly killing its own innocent men, women and children. Stop raping them and stop starving them. That's all we ask."
Clooney, who on Wednesday was a guest at the White House banquet in honor of British Prime Minister David Cameron, and several others posted bail and walked free later on Friday.
"You never know if you are accomplishing anything ... We hope it helps," Clooney told reporters after his release, adding that the arrest was his first and "let's hope it's my last."
Activists have drawn parallels between the current crisis in Sudan's Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces and the violence almost a decade ago in the western region of Darfur, where Khartoum sparked international condemnation by violently suppressing a rebellion in a conflict that the United Nations estimates killed some 300,000 people.
The United States has voiced serious concerns about the deteriorating conditions in the border region, where Sudanese troops are fighting rebels aligned with its newly-independent neighbor South Sudan.
Clooney, who recently visited the area, told a Senate hearing this week that Sudan's forces were launching repeated attacks on unarmed civilians and preventing aid from reaching a region where U.S. officials say as many as 250,000 people face severe food shortages.
Clooney, a long-time celebrity activist critical of the Khartoum government, had been expected to provoke police into arresting him.
Others arrested on Friday included several U.S. congressmen, the son of slain U.S. civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., and John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project and a veteran human rights campaigner, protest organizers said.
Tom Andrews, president of United to End Genocide, another group involved in the protest, said the United States government should raise the heat on Khartoum to stop the violence and allow humanitarian access.
"It is unacceptable and inexcusable that Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir — an international criminal wanted for war crimes and genocide — is getting away with bombing, starving and displacing hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Sudan's Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State," Andrews, who was also arrested, said in a statement.
The Sudan Embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Ross Colvin and Vicki Allen)