Officials Deny Turkey Pressed Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir to Cancel Trip

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ANKARA (Today’s Zaman)–Turkish and Sudanese officials on Monday denied that Turkey had informally pressed the Sudan’s internationally indicted president, Omar al-Bashir, to cancel his plans to visit Istanbul to attend an Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting.  

Bashir, who in March became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for crimes against humanity in Darfur, was among heads of state and government that Istanbul planned to host on Monday for an economic summit during the 25th session of the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC) of the OIC.

He canceled his visit at the last minute Sunday evening, citing domestic issues that he needed to deal with. The decision appeared to relieve Turkey of Western criticisms over his visit, which would have been the third in the last two years.

The Sudanese delegation attending the Istanbul meeting, speaking with the Anatolia news agency on Monday, made it clear that Turkey did not pose any “recommendation or suggestion” to Bashir to not attend the summit. The reason behind Bashir’s last-minute decision is “entirely about domestic matters, since he has been dealing with peace talks in Sudan.”

“Sudan has made the statement on this issue. This is completely their own decision,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters later in the day.

Early last week, Sudanese officials informed Ankara that Bashir would attend the conference in Istanbul. After Bashir’s intention to attend the summit was disclosed, the international community urged Turkey not to host Bashir, while the European Union on Thursday requested that Turkey reconsider its decision to invite Bashir. On Friday, refraining from criticizing Turkey for its willingness to allow Bashir to attend the OIC summit in Istanbul, Washington underlined the importance it attached to any messages given to Bashir by the Turkish leadership during the former’s visit.

Eventually, Bashir called President Abdullah Gul on Sunday evening and said he would not attend the summit in Istanbul, citing domestic problems in his country and a monthly strategic cooperation meeting between his country and Egypt scheduled to be held on Tuesday as reasons for his decision.

Sudan’s state news agency Suna, meanwhile, reported that Bashir had postponed his trip to return to Khartoum to discuss a deadlock over election laws with his coalition partners, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

In remarks indicating reluctance to host Bashir, Turkish officials underlined in the last few days that the invitation to Bashir was not sent by Turkey, but by the OIC, while also noting that Turkish President Abdullah Gul hadn’t sent any personal invitation to any particular head of state and government since it was an OIC event. Gul hadn’t planned any bilateral meeting with Bashir on the sidelines of the summit.

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. Nearly half a million Darfuris have been killed since the Genocide began in 2003. Sudan denies the genocide.

In remarks broadcast on Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed accusations of genocide against Bashir, saying in controversial remarks that a Muslim cannot commit genocide. He also said the situation in Gaza, for which he has severely blamed Israel, was different from the situation in Darfur. On Monday, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish secretary-general of the OIC, said there was a humanitarian crisis in Darfur and that the Sudanese government had moral and legal responsibility, but added that it was wrong to talk about genocide.

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