Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday denied that Omar Hassan al-Bashir was responsible for genocide in Darfur and said he would be more comfortable talking to the indicted Sudanese president than to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the state-run news agency Anatolian reported.
"I wouldn't be able to speak with Netanyahu so comfortably but I would speak comfortably with Bashir. I say comfortably "What you've done is wrong". And I would say it to his face. Why? Because a Muslim couldn't do such things. A Muslim could not commit genocide," Anatolian quoted Erdogan as saying.
Turkish government officials said Bashir would not attend an Islamic summit in Istanbul as planned, after the European Union raised objections to his visit.
Bashir, against whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region, had announced plans to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Monday.
"We have learned that he is not coming," a Turkish government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, without elaborating. Other Turkish officials, visibly relieved at the news, also confirmed that Bashir was not attending.
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. The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in Darfur in 2003, although Sudan rejects that figure.
Turkey, which has deepened economic ties with Sudan, has not ratified the statute that established the ICC and had said it had no plans to arrest Bashir.
The mainly Muslim country, which is seeking EU membership, had come under pressure from Brussels and international human rights groups to drop Bashir from the guest list.
Campaigning group Human Rights Watch had said that NATO member Turkey's international image would "plummet" if Ankara did not bar Bashir's entry.
Bashir has travelled to African countries since his arrest warrant was issued by the ICC in March.
Iranian president in Turkey (Photo: Reuters)
Iran's anti-American President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country is engaged in a standoff with the West over Tehran's nuclear program, arrived in Istanbul on Sunday to attend the one-day OIC meeting.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in his first trip abroad since his re-election was announced this week following a fraud-marred ballot, also arrived earlier on Sunday and held bilateral talks with Turkey's President Abdullah Gul.
Western powers are seeking to exert pressure on Tehran for concessions on its nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad could use the summit to undermine efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic.
Meanwhile Sunday, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that if Turkey wished to help his country, it must maintain good relations with Israel. Assad told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that Ankara had been successful in mediating between Jerusalem and Damascus fir eight months and had conveyed an important message to the West.
"Turkey must maintain good relations with Israel, otherwise how can it fill a significant role in the peace process?" he said.
Ynet contributed to this report