Sudan police arrest opposition leader

Times Staff Writer

Two days after Darfur rebels launched an unsuccessful attack against the Sudanese capital, government security forces arrested Hassan Turabi, one of the country's most outspoken opposition leaders, an aide said today.

Police detained Turabi, 75, in his office about 5 a.m., three hours after he returned to the capital, Khartoum, after a road trip, said Awad Babiker, Turabi's secretary.

"We don't know where they have taken him," he said.

Five other members of Turabi's Popular Congress party also were arrested, he said.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

The arrests appear to be in response to Saturday's attack by the Darfur rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement, whose fighters clashed with government forces in a gun battle on Khartoum's outskirts.

Experts worry that the regime will use the attack as an excuse to crack down on political opponents before next year's planned elections. Last year, the government arrested another top opposition leader on allegations of plotting a coup, but later released him.

Sudanese officials have accused Chad's government of backing the rebels, and on Sunday they cut diplomatic ties.

But Turabi, who has been in and out of prison for much of his political career, has also been linked to the Justice group, whose leader, Khalil Ibrahim, is a former Turabi disciple.

In an interview last month, Turabi said he had no control over the rebels and that government officials had sought his help in Darfur peace talks.

"They think I can pressure Khalid to go into peace talks, but I don't control him," Turabi said.

Justice and Equality Movement officials also have denied any ties to Turabi, a former ally of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir. Turabi was the government's ideological mastermind in the 1990s, pushing for strict Islamic law and providing haven to terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

After a bitter split with Bashir in 2000, Turabi was imprisoned for conspiracy. Upon his release in 2005, he immediately became one of the government's most vehement critics.


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