June 30, 2005

Sudan frees Islamic leader Turabi

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan on Thursday released prominentIslamist Hassan Turabi, detained last year on suspicion ofplotting a coup, in a step toward reconciliation amongKhartoum's political elite.

Hundreds of supporters shouting "God is great" welcomedTurabi, a former ally of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, tohis Popular Congress party headquarters, which reopened onThursday after the authorities lifted a ban on its activities.

Dressed in his usual white cloak and neatly bound turban,Turabi said the government had released him only underpressure. "I may go back to prison again. So my coming out issomething transient," he told Reuters.

Bashir said in a speech on Thursday that his government haddecided to release all political prisoners and undertake otherreform measures.

The political climate in Khartoum has improved since thegovernment and southern rebels signed an agreement in Januaryending more than 20 years of civil war.

A new government, including the southern rebels, isexpected to take office in August under a new constitution,which is still being negotiated.

Bashir said that, as soon as the interim constitution wassigned in July, a state of emergency would come to an endexcept in troubled parts of the vast country -- the westernregion of Darfur and two states in the east.


Turabi has been in detention or house arrest since March2004.

The Islamist leader, who was born in 1932 and has spentseveral periods in custody during a tumultuous career, wasaccused of plotting a coup against his former ally Bashir. Hewas never charged and did not face trial.

Umma Party leader and former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi,Turabi's brother-in-law and usually a political rival, wasamong the crowds of wellwishers who came to greet him on hisrelease.

The authorities have linked Turabi's Popular Congress withthe rebellion in the western region of Darfur, for which Turabiexpressed sympathy on Thursday.

"We are in favor of the political demands of the people ofDarfur and the east of Sudan... We want freedom for theSudanese people," he said.

Other members of the Popular Congress were implicated in asecond alleged coup attempt in September last year. Authoritieson Thursday lifted a ban on the party.

Turabi is the former mentor of Bashir, who took power in abloodless coup in 1989. However, the two parted ways after apower struggle in 2001. Turabi was then detained for about twoyears. He was also jailed immediately after the 1989 coup.

It is was not immediately clear how many others would leavejail and whether any had yet come out.

The government needs to broaden its support base at home tocounter U.N. and U.S. pressure to hand over people accused ofwar crimes in the Darfur conflict. The government says it willtry any suspects in Sudanese courts.