Government frees prominent Islamist leader Turabi

KHARTOUM (AFP) — Sudanese Islamist opposition leader Hassan Turabi was freed from jail Thursday, 15 months after his arrest over an alleged coup plot, and immediately lashed out at the lack of freedom in his country.
Turabi, the one-time mentor of President Omar Bashir, addressed a crowd of supporters in Khartoum after his release, which came as Sudan marked the anniversary of the 1989 military coup that bought Bashir to power.

“Freedoms are still forbidden,” Turabi charged, complaining about press censorship, restrictions on political parties and bans on street demonstrations.

He told hundreds of supporters that his joy would be complete only if all “the people for whom we sacrifice and get arrested” were also free.” As the crowd welcomed its leader at his party’s headquarters in the affluent Khartoum district of Riyadh, people shouted: “Long live Turabi. Turabi, our sole leader.”

Turabi’s wife Wisal Mahdi said his opposition Popular Congress (PC) party has received authorisation to resume its activities and re-open its Khartoum headquarters.

“All political detainees will be released,” Bashir said in an address commemorating the 16th anniversary of Sudan’s National Salvation Revolution.

He hailed “national unity” after a peace deal between the north and south and efforts to reconcile with the opposition, and said the country’s 16-year-old state of emergency would be lifted soon.

Khartoum and former southern rebels signed a peace deal last January after 21 years of conflict, and a national unity government is due to start operating on July 9. But Sudan’s western Darfur region is still wracked by conflict, and fighting has recently broken out in the east of the country.

Turabi criticised the north-south agreement and the interim constitution, which will come into force on July 9 and which includes power-sharing quotas that give the ruling party and former southern rebels 80 per cent of executive positions and parliamentary seats.

“For the first time in the world, a constitution determines the majority that will rule the country while this should be left to the people to determine,” he said. “This is unacceptable and we shall demand its amendment,” Turabi added.

He also vowed to fight against what he called “widespread corruption” in the country.

Turabi, 73, was arrested in March 2004 along with Sudanese army officers over government allegations of a coup attempt by sympathisers of Darfur rebels and was awaiting trial on an array of charges.

He was previously under house arrest for the final six months of 2000 and then again from February 2001 until October 2003.

He had been increasingly critical of the government’s scorched-earth policy in Darfur, where some 300,000 people have died and more than two million left homeless as a result of the fighting between Khartoum-backed militiamen and ethnic minority rebels.

Turabi’s lawyer Kamal Amin, who also serves as the PC’s legal secretary, said that “no charges were filed against him from the start. He was being held under Sudan’s state of emergency laws.”

“There won’t be a trial.”

An Islamist ideologue with influence beyond Sudan’s borders, Turabi rallied behind Bashir in 1989 but was removed from key posts after losing a power struggle with the president in 1999.

As senior statesman, he became what many considered to be the real power behind the throne of a country he directed towards rigorous Islamic practices, particularly affecting the rights of women.

His moves also earned Sudan a place on the international blacklist, from the United States to Egypt, which accused Khartoum of harbouring Islamic “terrorism.”

Turabi also left his mark on Sudan’s foreign policy, which moved towards an Arab and Islamist nationalism which called for liberation from “American-Zionist hegemony.”

Garang reaches out to Khartoum-backed militia chiefs in key truce talks
NAIROBI (AFP) — The leader of southern Sudan John Garang on Thursday welcomed Khartoum-backed southern Sudanese militia groups back into the fold as the vast African nation prepares to start implementing a landmark January peace agreement.

The three-day talks, which opened Thursday and were organised by retired Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, are aimed at convincing militias to halt attacks on civilian targets, mostly in Upper Nile region, and at welcoming the militias into the peace deal, against which they have protested. Garang, addressing delegates from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and militia groups in Kenya, said it was imperative “to heal the wounds of the past, remove mistrust, build confidence, and restore fraternity and mutual respect among ourselves.”

“Furthermore we believe that some of these differences are not real, but are either a result of different perception and conceptions of our situation or a simply created to advance some political agenda,” Garang said.

Militia leaders Gabriel Tanginya and Paulino Matibu, who both command heavily-armed militias blamed for abducting hundreds of civilians and imposing illegal taxes in Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile region, were present at the talks.

Others expected to attend are Gordon Kong and Ismael Konyi — from the Upper Nile region — as well as Abdalla Ayii from Bahr El-Ghazal region. The militia leaders, who in April boycotted a key regional conference in Kenya that was aimed at promoting postwar reconciliation between the south’s fractious factions, demanded a separate meeting with Garang.

They have in the past termed Garang as dictatorial and insensitive.

“Every Sudanese must get involved in the culture of peace building in order to realise peace dividend,” said Moi, who since his retirement in December 2002, has taken up the role of a regional peacemaker. “I encourage you to turn this meeting into an opportunity to share your thoughts and experience and to exercise flexibility in the spirit of forgiveness as true daughters and sons of the south,” he said. Under a peace agreement signed in Kenya in January between the Khartoum government and SPLM/A, all the militia groups operating in southern Sudan would have been incorporated in the peace agreement before July 9 when the implementation of the peace deal starts. But the militia chiefs have said the deal was incomplete in their absence. Sudan watchers have repeatedly warned that the absence of the militia chiefs could hamper the effective implementation of the deal and restoration of stability in southern Sudan when Garang becomes the Sudan’s vice president, in accordance with the peace deal.

The war, which erupted in 1983, in southern Sudan claimed at least 1.5 million lives and displaced more than four million others.

Matibu’s Southern Sudan Defence Forces, in a statement, accused Garang had played part in the deteroriation of ties between SPLM/A and Garand in southern Sudan.

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