ISTANBUL, Turkey – Sudan's indicted president denied Wednesday that his regime is orchestrating genocide in the troubled western region of Darfur — and offered hope for an end to the violence and the dawn of reconciliation by promising free and fair elections next year.
Al-Bashir, speaking in Turkey during his first trip abroad since the indictment, said the death toll was inflated.
"Genocide like the International Criminal Court claims is nonexistent," he said at a news conference in Istanbul on the sidelines of a Turkey-Africa cooperation summit.
"If (those figures) were accurate, there needs to be mass graves. Where are those graves?" he said.
Al-Bashir's regime is accused of directing the janjaweed militia campaign against black African groups that say the government discriminates against ethnic Africans. The janjaweed militias also are blamed for extreme violence against civilians.
On Tuesday, Turkey's President Abdullah Gul urged Sudan to take responsibility for Darfur and to end the suffering in the region.
There are fears the indictment could threaten a fragile peace deal in Sudan and plunge the country back into civil war.
Members of the former southern rebel group Sudan People's Liberation Movement — now al-Bashir's wary partner in a unity government formed as part of the 2005 peace deal — want the president to make concessions to ward off the court's charges by handing over some Sudanese officials.
But al-Bashir rebuffed such calls on Wednesday, reasserting that his administration does not recognize the court.
"We are saying that we will not hand over any Sudanese citizens to anyone for prosecution abroad," he said.
"We are an independent state, with an independent and fair judiciary system."
But al-Bashir offered something else his southern rivals have been longing for: free elections.
"The next year, after completing the election law, we'll have free elections," he said. If al-Bashir sticks to his promise, the elections could be Sudan's freest and fairest in decades.
Meanwhile, al-Bashir accused Western powers of provoking separatist violence. The president said his administration was working with countries such as China and India instead of Western companies to develop the country's rich oil fields and other natural resources.
"Some forces who are targeting Sudan's resources are encouraging fighting in Sudan and want her to be divided," he said.