Sudan arrests Islamist opposition leader


Sudanese authorities arrested an opposition leader and closed down his party newspaper, accusing him of directing rebel attacks in the strife-torn Darfur region, a government official said.

Supporters of Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Turabi dismissed the accusations, saying Khartoum was cracking down on dissent a month after the country’s first open elections in 24 years.

Armed security agents detained Turabi in his Khartoum home late on Saturday then launched a dawn raid on the newspaper linked to his Popular Congress Party (PCP), arresting staff and seizing Sunday’s print-run, his family and supporters said.

Turabi, 78, who was close to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir before a bitter power struggle and split in 1999/2000, has been in and out of jail since he formed his own movement. He hosted al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.
“The government has a lot of evidence that Dr Turabi is behind all the acts of JEM (Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement)…He is directing JEM. He is behind the attacks committed by JEM that caused so many deaths and injuries,” said Rabie Abdelati, a senior information ministry official.

Abdelati, a member of Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party, said another reason for the arrest was a series of articles published by PCP newspaper Rai Al-Shaab that he said set out to insult the president and destabilise the country.

He cited articles accusing Bashir of rigging the vote and reporting Iran was developing weapons in a Sudanese factory.
“Fabricated charge”

The state Sudanese Media Centre reported the head of the country’s National Security and Intelligence service Muhammad Atta al-Mawla Abbas had ordered the confiscation of the paper’s assets on grounds of national security.

It quoted a security source saying: “This does not mean a backtrack from the democratic transformation or suppression of public freedoms in the country.”

Turabi’s party dismissed the accusations as a fabrication.
“This charge is not true. It is the usual charge the government comes up with to cover up its political mistakes in Darfur,” said PCP official Kamal Omar.

Around 70 opposition supporters held a brief but rare public protest against the arrest outside the PCP’s Khartoum base.
“I condemn the arrest. It shows we are not heading towards democratic transformation,” PCP presidential candidate Abdallah Nhial Deng said. “The government will bear the responsibility for any deterioration in his health.”

Sudan’s army said it ousted JEM from its West Darfur stronghold near the border with Chad, killing 108 rebels.

JEM, which suspended troubled peace talks with Sudan’s government this month, denied the report saying it left the area days earlier to spare civilians.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Bashir last year for war crimes in Darfur, charges he denies. Rebels took up arms in 2003 accusing Khartoum of neglecting the arid region. Washington says Khartoum committed genocide during a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.

Separately, Sudan’s Supreme Court ordered a re-run of a state assembly election in Red Sea state after an opposition group sent in a video that appeared to show officials stuffing ballot boxes, the National Elections Commission said yesterday.

The video was originally posted on video website YouTube.