Joined by senators from the left and right, Oscar-winning actor George Clooney used his star power on Thursday to focus attention on Sudan's Darfur region, where he said the first genocide of this century was taking place.
Clooney told heart-breaking stories of visiting the border area between Chad and Sudan's Darfur region last week, where he watched refugees spilling into sordid camps and women foraging for food who faced the threat of rape or death.
Clooney urged the public to attend rallies across the United States this Sunday to pressure Khartoum to stop what Washington says amounts to genocide in Darfur.
Hollywood actors, political, religious leaders and sporting personalities will be among those at the rallies, which are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people.
"What we cannot do is turn our heads and look away and hope that this will somehow disappear," Clooney said to an unusually packed news conference at the National Press Club. "It's the first genocide of the 21st century."
Clooney showed a short video from his visit with his father to Sudan and neighboring Chad, a collection of interviews and disturbing pictures of emaciated children in dusty camps.
The actor, flanked by conservative Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, and liberal Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, said a young girl asked him during his trip when he would return and "stop this."
When he said it would be soon, the girl replied "that's what you always say."
Clooney is usually seen more frequently among Democratic politicians and has often criticized the Bush administration for its policies, but on Thursday he said issues such as Darfur could not be partisan.
Two rebel groups from Darfur, which is about the size of Texas, took up arms in early 2003 over what they saw as neglect by Sudan's Arab-dominated central government.
Khartoum is accused of arming militias drawn mainly from Arab tribes to crush the rebellion. A campaign of murder, rape, looting and arson ensued that has killed tens of thousands of people and drove more than 2 million into camps in Darfur and Chad.