Mon, May 01, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Thousands expected to protest Darfur `genocide'

CALL FOR ACTION George Clooney was among the prominent figures due to attend a rally in Washington yesterday seeking an end to the grim situation in Sudan

AFP , WASHINGTON

Protesters hold signs in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington on Friday. Five member of Congress were arrested and led away from the embassy on Friday after protesting the Sudanese government's alleged role in atrocities in the Darfur region. Thousands of protesters were expected to attend rallies across the US yesterday to protest the dire situation in Darfur.

PHOTO: EPA

Tens of thousands of demonstrators were expected to attend rallies across the US yesterday to denounce the carnage in Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region.

Oscar-winner George Clooney, who last week called for international action against "the first genocide of the 21st century," will take part in a protest in the US capital.

Clooney, who recently traveled to the troubled region, will be joined at the rally by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and other prominent figures.

The Washington rally will also feature US Representative Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, and Paul Rusesabagina, whose life inspired the critically-acclaimed film Hotel Rwanda, about genocide in that African country.

Tens of thousands are expected to attend the rally in Washington, organized by a coalition of 1,260 organizations.

Other protests will take place across the country, from Chicago to Austin, Texas and San Francisco.

The Sudanese government, through its embassy in Washington, issued a statement on Friday calling the planned US protests "misdirected" and "naive."

"The message that will be sent by the demonstrators to the Darfur rebels is, `don't make peace -- the US supports you,'" the embassy said in a press release, adding that such protests send "the wrong message at just the wrong time."

"There is a human tragedy today in Darfur that will be most effectively and quickly addressed through peace negotiations, not rhetoric," Sudan's dispatch read.

The civil war has led to the deaths of up to 300,000 people, while the UN estimates that more than 2.4 million have been forced from their homes.

The conflict, which pits rebels against government-backed militias, surged as a top issue in Washington in recent days.

US President George W. Bush, who has called the Darfur violence genocide, met with activists lobbying on behalf of victims on Friday, while several US lawmakers were arrested in a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in an act of civil disobedience.

After his meeting with activists, Bush pressed the government of Sudan to end the violence in the region.

"The message to the Sudanese government is: We're very serious about getting this problem solved. We don't like it when we see women raped and brutalized," Bush said at a White House press conference.

"We expect there to be a full effort by the government to protect human life and human conditions," he said.

Bush also said African Union forces on the ground in Darfur are greatly in need of outside reinforcement from UN peacekeeping troops backed by NATO.

He urged Khartoum to rein in the government-backed Janjaweed militias alleged to have carried out much of the bloodletting.

But he suggested that rebels battling the government must also play a role in ending the violence.

War broke out in Darfur in February 2003 when rebel groups revolted against what they describe as the political and economic marginalization of the region's black African ethnic groups by the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum.

Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed militias, a force of mounted gunmen dubbed "devils on horseback", which have been blamed for many atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning villages.

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