The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He is the first sitting head of state the court has ordered arrested.
The three-judge panel said there was insufficient evidence to support charges of genocide.
Court spokeswoman Laurence Blairon said, "He is suspected of being criminally responsible ... for intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property."
Sudan does not recognize the court's jurisdiction and refuses to arrest suspects.
If Al-Bashir is brought to trial and prosecuted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Sudanese TV did not carry the Hague news conference, but at one point broke in to programming with a brief news report that the warrant had been issued. The broadcaster on state radio announced the decision, and added, "a new chapter now begins" but did not elaborate.
In Khartoum, security was increased around many embassies, and some diplomats and aid workers stayed home Wednesday amid fears of retaliation against Westerners before the court's announcement. The ruling party announced that it plans a "million man march" in Khartoum on Thursday to protest any warrant.
Asked why judges, in a 2-1 split decision, did not issue the warrant for genocide, Blairon explained that genocide requires a clear intent to destroy in part or as a whole a specific group.
"In this particular case, the pretrial chamber has not been able to find there were reasonable grounds to establish a genocidal intent," she said.