Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thousands rally against Darfur killing

Thousands rally against Darfur killing
By Karey Wutkowski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of Americans, led by religious leaders, entertainers and politicians, rallied on Sunday to urge the United States to halt "genocide" in Sudan's Darfur region.

"Darfur deserves to live. We are its only hope," Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel told the crowd that converged on the National Mall in Washington, near the U.S. Capitol.

Other speakers at the rally included Washington's Roman Catholic Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, and actor George Clooney, who visited Darfur last week.

"If we turn our heads and look away and hope that it will all disappear, then they will, all of them, a whole generation, and we will only have history to judge us," Clooney told the protesters.

Beating African drums and waving posters saying "Stop Genocide Now," the mostly white crowd had responded to a call from 160 religious, political and humanitarian organizations representing virtually all shades of U.S. opinion.

Smaller rallies also took place in 18 other U.S. cities, making this the largest public demonstration on the issue since the conflict in Darfur began three years ago.

"We know the march is not the beginning and end of it but it's an improvement," said Rabbi Shawn Zevit, director of outreach for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation.

"It is a show of solidarity, given the United States is one of few countries trying to exert pressure. There is momentum right now and the feeling we can influence things," he said.


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained on the ABC's television show This Week that Washington was not getting enough support from some other members of the U.N. Security Council to take more decisive action against Sudan.

"We also do need more support, frankly, from members of the international community -- from China, from Russia," she said.

Arab militia, backed by the Sudanese government, have terrorized non-Arab tribes in the region in western Sudan over the past three years, murdering and raping tens of thousands, burning villages and driving more than 2 million people into squalid camps in Darfur and neighboring Chad.

Peace talks on the conflict in Abuja, Nigeria, which faced a deadline on Sunday to reach an agreement, appeared to be at an impasse, after two Sudan rebel groups said they would refuse to sign a proposed Darfur peace agreement in its current form.

"We are not going to accept this document for signature unless there are fundamental changes made to the document," Ahmed Tugod, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) chief negotiator, told Reuters.

The African Union said it would not reopen substantial negotiations on the proposed text after Sunday, following two years of talks.

The government of Sudan has said it was ready to sign the agreement.

A faction of another rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, said it would not sign the proposed deal unless its demands were met in full.

The United States has labeled the violence in Darfur a genocide of the mainly African Muslim tribes by the government-backed militias known as Janjaweed.

President George W. Bush on Thursday issued an executive order freezing the assets of four Sudanese deemed to have posed a threat to the peace process in Darfur. But demonstrators called on the administration to do more.

Elamin Wadi, a refugee from Darfur who came to the United States in 2004, said: "We hope to send a message to the American government and then have the American government send a message to the Sudan government," he said.

Public pressure on Sudan has been building in recent months, with several universities and some states divesting assets from companies doing business with Sudan.

Jewish organizations had been particularly active in speaking out and some rabbis preached on the subject on Saturday. At B'nai Tzedek conservative congregation in Potomac, Maryland, just outside Washington, Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt told worshipers that Jews, as victims of the Nazi Holocaust, owed it to the world to stand up for the victims.