African nations unite to defend Sudanese leader

After bitter wrangling, Africa's leaders agreed to denounce the International Criminal Court and refuse to extradite Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The decision at the African Union summit said AU members "shall not cooperate" with the court in The Hague "in the arrest and transfer of President Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan to the ICC".

Sudan welcomed the move, and other Africans said it was a signal to the West that it shouldn't impose its ways on Africa. A human rights group said the decision was a gift to a dictator.

The 13th AU summit of heads of state, which concluded yesterday in Sirte, Libya, also "expresses its preoccupation about the behaviour of the ICC prosecutor" Luis Moreno Ocampo, whom African officials describe as too hard on Africans.

The ICC has launched investigations into four cases since it was created seven years ago - all of them in Africa.

Sudan rejoiced at the AU's rebuttal of the ICC. "It's the confirmation of what we always said: The indictment is a political thing, not a legal thing," Foreign Minister El Samany El Wasila said just after the decision was made public.

Mr El Wasila declined to comment on whether Mr al-Bashir would now feel free to travel to the 30 African countries that are party to the ICC. "We don't even want to think about it anymore," he said of the international court.

Some AU leaders said there was strong opposition to the summit's decision. Benin Foreign Minister Jean-Marie Ehouzou said that Sudan's neighbour and antagonist, Chad, objected to the wording.