Fri. 8:23 a.m.: Sudanese army says it holds president, won’t extradite him

Sudanese forces celebrate Thursday in Khartoum, Sudan, after officials said the military had forced longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir to step down after 30 years in power. (AP Photo)

CAIRO (AP) — The Sudanese army will not extradite deposed President Omar al-Bashir but will put him on trial at home, before the nation, the military said today as it defended its ouster of the longtime ruler, saying it was in response to the demands of the people.

“This was not a coup,” Col. Gen. Omar Zein Abedeen told reporters in the capital, Khartoum, but a “tool of change.”

Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court, faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his deadly campaign against insurgents in Darfur, where up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million driven from their homes by militias he backed.

To hand over al-Bashir would be “an ugly mark on Sudan … even rebels carrying weapons, we won’t extradite them,” said Zein Abedeen, who has been tasked by the military to lead a political dialogue.

Speaking at a press conference in Khartoum that was broadcast on state TV and flanked by other officers also in uniform, he left open the possibility that a future civilian government in Sudan could extradite al-Bashir to the court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The 75-year-old al-Bashir is in custody, Zein Abedeen said, but declined to provide more details or say where the president of 30 years is being held. He also confirmed that top government members, including the vice president and al-Bashir’s associates, are under arrest but didn’t give any names.

Zein Abedeen, who is on the military transitional council which took over after overthrowing al-Bashir on Thursday, also insisted the army has no ambition to hold the reins of power for long.

“We came … to guide the country forward,” Zein Abedeen said, apparently trying to reassure Sudanese protesters holding a sit-in outside the military headquarters. The protesters have defied the military, which imposed a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew after it arrested al-Bashir.

He pledged the military would stay on only as long as it’s needed, or for a maximum of two years.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy protesters who spent four months on the streets rallying against al-Bashir, pressed on with their campaign for a civilian government.

Thousands kept up their sit-in outside the Khartoum military headquarters overnight and into the morning, despite the curfew. Organizers said they would keep up the campaign and that they disagree with the army’s plans to rule the country for the next two years.