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Sudan frees opposition leader

KHARTOUM, Mar 9 – Sudanese authorities have released prominent Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi after almost two months behind bars, his family said on Monday.

Turabi, a fierce critic of the regime who has been in and out of jail over a career spanning about four decades, was detained in January after calling for President Omar al-Bashir to surrender to the International Criminal Court.

"My father has been freed from the Port Sudan prison. They took him by plane and he is now at home in Manshia (a Khartoum suburb)," his daughter Omama al-Turabi told AFP.

She said no reasons were given for his release.

Sudanese security officers arrested Turabi on January 14, two days after he urged Bashir to surrender to the ICC, saying he thought the head of state was "politically culpable" for crimes committed in conflict-ridden Darfur.

Turabi, 77, a guiding light in the Islamist-inspired bloodless 1989 coup that swept Bashir to power but now his bitter nemesis, said in January that the president should hand himself over to save Sudan from possible UN sanctions.

"Politically we think he is culpable… He should assume responsibility for whatever is happening in Darfur, displacement, burning all the villages, rapes, I mean systematic rapes, continuously, I mean on a wide scale and the killing," Turabi said.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir last Wednesday for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, accusing him of orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture, rape and pillage during the six years of conflict in the western Sudanese region.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died since conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated regime for a greater share of resources and power.

Turabi’s daughter said the family had asked the authorities allow his father to return home from the Port Sudan prison on the Red Sea due to health concerns after he became ill with flu, suffering a high fever and blood pressure.

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"We saw him in jail and were very worried," she said. "Officials came (at the weekend) proposing to release him from prison so he could return home."

Regarded as one of the driving forces behind the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Africa’s largest country in 1983, Turabi came Bashir’s mentor.

In 1989, he rallied behind Bashir, then an obscure military man who had just been promoted to general, to overthrow the democratically elected government of his brother-in-law, Sadeq al-Mahdi.

As senior statesman, he became what many considered to be the real power in a country which he directed towards rigorous Islamic practices.

But he lost a protracted power struggle with his protégé and was stripped of all his posts a decade later and has since spent repeated spells in jail or under house arrest.

Turabi, the head of the Popular Congress party, was last detained briefly in May last year with party colleagues in the wake of an attack on Khartoum by the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement, which shares his Islamist ideology.

In July 2005, he was released after more than a year in detention following an alleged coup plot.


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