As the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir (photo), has been accused of genocide in Darfur by an international prosecutor, the country’s government has responded angrily.
The International Criminal Court had no jurisdiction in Sudan, which would not co-operate, said Sudan’s UN envoy.
The evidence was false, said Ali Osman Taha, the vice-president, who also indicated that Sudan could try to halt the court’s work. In Khartoum, a pro-government rally is due to take place soon.
The United Nations is to begin removing some non-essential staff from Darfur, and explained that the decision came after recent violence and as a precaution after the genocide accusation
Accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, Mr Bashir says the accusations are lies.
At the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent body, judges are yet to decide if there are reasonable grounds to issue an arrest warrant against Mr Bashir.
The BBC has been told by Dr Ghazi Salaheddin, the president’s most senior adviser, that his country did not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and would rally support among allies in an attempt to block proceedings.
Efforts to indict a sitting head of state would set a dangerous precedent, he said.
He added that allegations of genocide by the prosecutor were designed to generate hostility between tribal groups in Darfur, and that such claims had already been dismissed by an international commission recognised by the UN.
Although Mr Salaheddin denied that the government of Sudan was blackmailing the international community by failing to provide security guarantees for peacekeepers and humanitarian staff, he said that if the ICC pursued the case, relations between Sudan and the UN could be jeopardised.
Having no influence in the region, the UN runs large-scale humanitarian operations there, and has thousands of peacekeepers in Darfur, as part of a joint mission with the African Union.
Elsewhere, China said it was concerned about the ICC’s decision to seek the arrest of Omar al-Bashir. China would continue to consult with other members of the UN Security Council about whether to block the ICC, said a foreign ministry spokesman, though it would not speculate on possible results of talks.
On Monday, praise have been offered for prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s charge by the US, which is not part of the ICC.
“In our view, recognition of the humanitarian disaster and the atrocities that have gone on there is a positive thing”, said state department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Wait the resolution of problems in Darfur
But caution has been urged by the African Union (AU), which has troops on the ground in Darfur.
The ICC should suspend its decision on whether to seek Mr Bashir’s arrest until problems in Darfur were resolved, said Tanzanian foreign minister Bernard Membe, speaking on behalf of the AU chairman.
In order to meet with Mr Bashir and other members of the government, Ramtane Lamamra, the Peace and Security Commissioner for the African Union, has flown to Sudan.
Concern has been expressed by the AU Commission, that “hard-won gains made in the search for peace and reconciliation in the Sudan” could be jeopardised.
Some time next week, foreign ministers of the 15 countries currently serving on the AU’s Peace and Security Council are expected to meet where the AU is based, in Addis Ababa, Ethipia.
African countries are put in an acutely difficult position by the charges against President Bashir, says the BBC’s Liz Blunt in Addis Ababa.
Those countries supply almost all the troops for the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, and are most likely the ones to be called upon to carry out any arrest warrant.
On Saturday, Sudan’s government is expected to meet friends from the Arab League in order to chart the way forward, reports the BBC’s Karen Allen in Khartoum. She adds that it will also seek to defend itself. Many consider the prosecution as an assault on the country’s sovereignty, as well as an attack on Islam.
Sudan’s government has already refused to hand over two suspects, charged last year by Mr Moreno-Ocampo : Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmad Harun and militia leader Ali Kushayb.
Currently, the joint UN-African Union Darfur mission, Unamid, plans to relocate around 200 people.
After being attacked by heavily armed militia in northern Darfur, seven Unamid peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured, on 8 July.
Last May, Unamid included nearly 9,600 uniformed personnel and about 1,300 civilian staff, both international and local.
Since 2003, the UN estimates that some 300 000 people have died because of the conflict in Darfur, and more than two million people have fled their homes.
Since rebels took up arms in 2003, Sudan’s government denies mobilising Arab Janjaweed militias to attack black African civilians in Darfur.