ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir pulled out of an Islamic summit in Istanbul on Sunday -- a trip that the European Union had objected to because of his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) .
Bashir, against whom the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region, had announced plans to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Monday.
Sudan’s state news agency Suna reported that Bashir had postponed his trip to return to Khartoum to discuss a deadlock over election laws with his coalition partners, the former southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
Turkey, which has deepened economic ties with Sudan, has not ratified the statute that established the ICC and had said it had no plans to arrest Bashir.
But the mainly Muslim country, which is seeking EU membership, had come under pressure from Brussels to drop Bashir from the guest list.
International Crisis Group analyst Fouad Hikmat said the decision showed how much the ICC warrant had hindered Bashir’s movements.
“I don’t think he’ll be able to venture out beyond the immediate neighborhood, or maybe the Gulf. His people don’t want to take any risks. Once he’s in international airspace, he is in no man’s land,” he told Reuters.
Earlier, in comments reported by the state-run Anatolian news agency, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had denied that Bashir was responsible for genocide in Darfur and said he would be more comfortable talking to Bashir than to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I wouldn’t be able to speak with Netanyahu so comfortably but I would speak comfortably with Bashir. I say comfortably: ”What you’ve done is wrong.“ And I would say it to his face. Why? Because a Muslim couldn’t do such things. A Muslim could not commit genocide,” Anatolian reported Erdogan as saying.
The ICC indicted Bashir in March on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but stopped short of including a charge of genocide. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003, although Sudan rejects that figure.
Erdogan’s comments could further damage Turkey’s already strained ties with Israel, which have worsened since Israel’s December-January offensive in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
The campaigning group Human Rights Watch had said that NATO member Turkey’s international image would “plummet” if it did not bar Bashir.
Bashir has traveled to African countries since the ICC issued its arrest warrant in March.
Iran’s anti-American president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country is engaged in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program, arrived in Istanbul to attend the one-day meeting.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in his first trip abroad since his re-election was announced last week following a ballot marred by fraud, also arrived and held bilateral talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Western powers are seeking to exert pressure on Tehran for concessions on its nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad could use the summit to combat efforts to isolate the Islamic republic.
Reporting by Zerin Elci; Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson and Daren Butler; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Kevin Liffey