Home | News    Tuesday 5 August 2003

Sudan body seeks release of Islamist leader-paper

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KHARTOUM, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A human rights body appointed by the Sudanese government has called for the release of an Islamist leader, Hassan al-Turabi, who was once a close ally of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an independent newspaper said on Tuesday.

The call followed the recent release of 32 political prisoners, of which 13 were from the Popular National Congress (PNC), the party headed by Turabi, the president’s former chief ideologue.

Analysts said Bashir’s Islamist government may have released the political prisoners in a bid to broaden support for negotiations aimed at ending a 20-year-old civil war. One proposal from mediators, opposed by Bashir, is for Islamic sharia law to be scrapped in the capital Khartoum.

"The official spokesman of the advisory council for human rights, al-Tayeb Haroun, said the council demanded in its meeting yesterday the release of the nine remaining detainees, one of whom is Turabi," al-Ayam newspaper reported on Tuesday.

It did not identify the other eight detainees, but Turabi aide Mohamed al-Amin al-Khalifa told Reuters they were PNC members.

He said most of the 13 PNC members released earlier were student leaders, but also included a former government official and a trade unionist. "The 13 who were released are not guilty of any crime," Khalifa said.

He said the 19 other prisoners released alongside the PNC members belonged to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which includes several opposition parties.

Turabi, a key figure in the Islamist government set up by Bashir after a coup in 1989, was arrested in February 2001 for crimes against the state following a power struggle with Bashir.

Turabi was arrested after signing a controversial deal with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which has been fighting since 1983 for greater autonomy in the mainly Christian and animist south.

Talks between the SPLA and government have agreed on giving the south a vote on independence and on ending sharia in non-Muslim areas, but have become bogged down on how to share power and wealth, as well as on the status of the capital.

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