Home | News    Wednesday 31 March 2004

Sudan detains Islamist leader for incitement

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By Nima Elbagir

KHARTOUM, March 31 (Reuters) - Sudan detained opposition Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi in the early hours of Wednesday, accusing him of inciting tribal tensions and saying his party had funded rebels in the western Darfur area.

Turabi’s political party, the Popular Congress, was loosely linked this week to a group of officers arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup, according to a high-ranking military official.

But Information Minister Al-Zahawi Ibrahim Malik said Turabi, a central figure in Sudanese politics for some 30 years, was arrested in connection with a March 29 statement which he called "an attempt at incitement and... to engender a spirit of racism and bias." The Popular Congress denied the charge.

The opposition leader was detained previously in 2001 after a power struggle with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and was released from house arrest in October. Since his release he has openly criticised Bashir’s government.

Malik also told reporters Turabi’s party funded the Darfur rebels, who launched a revolt in February last year accusing the government of neglecting the arid area.

"The Popular Congress funded the rebels in Darfur in an attempt to internationalise the situation. It was a desperate attempt to hinder the peace process and distract the Sudanese people from the peace process," he told reporters.

Turabi has said he supported the charges of the Darfur rebels but was not involved in the insurrection.

A source close to peace talks between the Darfur rebels and the government in the Chadian capital N’Djamena said indirect talks began after Khartoum boycotted the opening session on Tuesday in protest at the presence of international observers.

"The mediators have met with both sides separately... and there are no international observers," the source said.

ATTEMPTED COUP DENIED

Malik also appeared to row back from comments that there had been an attempted coup in Khartoum.

"It was not so much an attempted coup as an anarchic operation targeting the (Khartoum) oil refinery and power generation plants," he said. "This is what led the government to detain these military brothers."

"We assure you that this operation was very limited in its scope," he added.

He said the security forces were undertaking preliminary investigations, after which the 10 officers would be taken before a military court.

Malik said seven members of the Popular Congress had also been detained but did not say whether they would be brought before the military court.

Awad Babiker, Turabi’s secretary, said the March 29 statement was issued in response to rumours circulating that it was involved in the coup attempt.

"We said in the statement... the arrests were a purging of the army of all those from Darfur," he told Reuters.

"We were frank that we... no longer believed in coups."

Turabi, in his early 70s, is a former ally of Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup. A French-trained lawyer with an international following, he has served in several high positions, between spending several spells in jail.

(Additional reporting by Edmund Blair in Cairo)

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