Thousands of supporters cheer during a speech delivered by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday. He is wanted on war-crimes charges at the International Criminal Court. ((Nasser Nasser/Associated Press))

The International Criminal Court's decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's president for war crimes will destabilize the country and disrupt peace efforts in Darfur, President Omar al-Bashir said Thursday.

Speaking during a cabinet session on Thursday, al-Bashir condemned the international tribunal's decision to seek his arrest, calling it a conspiracy against Sudan.

The United Nations and other international organizations operating in Sudan are "tools of the new colonialism" meant to bring Sudan and its resources under control, al-Bashir said.

"We are ready to resist colonialism," said al-Bashir. "We are ready to defend our religion." He denounced the leaders of the United States and Europe as the "real criminals ... who are coming up with new lies."

Al-Bashir was speaking for the first time since the warrant was issued for his arrest the previous day.

"This is an attempt to get at Sudan," he said.

This is the first warrant the ICC has issued for the arrest of a head of state who is still in power. The judges in the Hague allege the Sudanese president committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during a five-year anti-insurgency campaign.

That campaign, they allege, was waged against the Sudanese Liberation Movement Army, the Justice and Equality Movement and other armed groups who complained of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated government.

The fighting, which began in 2003, has killed about 300,000 people and forced nearly 2.7 million others out of their homes.

China, meanwhile, has urged the UN Security Council to heed calls from African and Arab countries to suspend the case against al-Bashir.

"China opposes anything that could disrupt efforts to realize peace in Darfur and in Sudan," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. "We hope the relevant parties will take full consideration of the possible repercussions of this decision."

Officials with the African Union said Thursday they will be sending a delegation to the UN Security Council to ask it to delay the indictment of al-Bashir for a year to avoid disrupting any progress made in the fragile region.

Aid groups expelled


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir waves his cane in front of thousands of supporters at the entrance of the presidential palace in Khartoum, Sudan, on Thursday. ((Nasser Nasser/Associated Press))

Al-Bashir's government ordered the expulsion of 10 international humanitarian organizations from Darfur on Wednesday following the issuing of the warrant, claiming they had violated the law and security of the country.

The groups include Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children. Al-Bashir said his government will be "responsible and firm" with any person or group who tries to destabilize the situation in Sudan.

The organizations have disrupted peace efforts in Darfur, he said, adding every time the country reaches a peace deal to end the six-year conflict international decisions have created further roadblocks.

Witnesses said Thursday that Sudanese security officials have begun removing computers and other assets from agencies' offices in Khartoum and Darfur.

"We in Sudan have always been a target of the U.N. and these organizations because we have said, 'No,"' al-Bashir said, adding that he feels the resources of Sudan should go to the people of Sudan.

"The impact is going to be huge. We were assisting 600,000 people in parts in Darfur with lifesaving activities like water and food distribution," said Bea Spadacini, a spokeswoman for CARE. She said the organization's 650 employees in Sudan stopped working Wednesday after the government revoked its license.

In the capital, Khartoum, senior UN officials were meeting with government officials in a last attempt to negotiate a deal to allow the organizations to stay.

The expulsion of the groups is "a serious setback to lifesaving operations in Darfur," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The humanitarian aid organizations have no connection to the ICC and its decision to issue the warrant, Ban said on Wednesday.

The absence of the organizations in the country could lead to more crisis for the more than 2 million Sudanese who still need shelter, food and clean water, he said.

UN officials said their staff will continue to deal with al-Bashir in Sudan because he remains the president of the country.

Following his cabinet meeting, al-Bashir appeared before a public rally which was attended by thousands of supporters.

The Sudanese president also still plans to attend the Arab summit in Qatar at the end of the month, according to an official in Sudan's foreign ministry.

With files from the Associated Press