By Andrew Heavens
KHARTOUM, March 7 (Reuters) - Sudan’s president defied calls to arrest him for war crimes on Saturday, defending his decision to expel aid groups and dancing in front of crowds wearing traditional feathered head dress.
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addressed crowds of supporters on the fourth day of demonstrations after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him, charging him with masterminding atrocities in Darfur.
Bashir defended his decision to shut down 13 foreign and three local aid groups over accusations that they passed information to the court’s prosecutors. Aid groups deny working with the court.
"These humanitarian organisations are just thieves," he said, referring to the aid groups. "They take 99 percent of the money and spend just 1 percent on the ground."
The president poured scorn on legal moves against him.
"If people want to fight us, they shouldn’t pass resolutions through the U.N. Security Council or the ICC. They should come and fight us face to face."
Sudan’s Ministry of Information said Bashir would continue to rally supporters with a visit to Darfur on Sunday.
Saturday’s rally in Khartoum was billed as a demonstration organised by Bashir supporters from semi-autonomous southern Sudan and Bashir wore southern costume during the demonstration.
But the event coincided with calls from South Sudan’s ruling party for the Khartoum government to reverse its decision to expel aid agencies.
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) spokesman Yien Matthew told Reuters the expulsion would have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of displaced Darfuris.
"People in Darfur who are displaced are dependent on these humanitarian agencies. It could be catastrophic ... We are hoping they will change their minds," Matthew said.
The comments were the first from within Sudan’s political system as the SPLM is in a national coalition government with Bashir’s dominant National Congress Party.
Matthew said the Bashir had taken the decision without consulting his southern political partners. "They are aware of (our disapproval) and yet they are still continuing."
The SPLM fought northern Sudan in a two-decade civil war that ended in a 2005 peace pact that created a semi-autonomous government in the south, set up the north-south coalition and promised a referendum on southern independence in 2011.
The expulsions on Wednesday and Thursday drew international condemnation and U.N. agencies in Sudan on Saturday said the closures would seriously damage humanitarian operations in northern Sudan.
The United Nations said in a statement that the expulsion of high-profile organisations including Oxfam, Save the Children and two branches of Medecins Sans Frontiers, removed 40 per cent of the humanitarian workforce in northern Sudan.
"It is not possible, in any reasonable timeframe, to replace the capacity and expertise these agencies have provided over an extended period of time," it said.
U.N. agencies rely on aid groups to deliver much of their food aid and other assistance to people on the ground, so the expulsions will also hit programmes run by the World Food Programme and other bodies. The expulsions did not affect agencies in southern Sudan.
The leader of Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters the expulsion of aid groups amounted to another war crime as it would deprive Darfuris of food and assistance. "I call on the Security Council to punish this government," he said.
(Additional reporting by Skye Wheeler in Juba)