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SUDAN: Fearing protests, government arrests opposition leader

January 18, 2011 | 12:56 pm

Turabi photo reuters Fearing the kind of unrest that toppled the government of Tunisia, security forces in Sudan on Tuesday arrested leading Islamist opposition leader Hassan Turabi after he threatened a popular revolt over rising prices on food and other goods.

Sudanese authorities accused Turabi, leader of the Popular Congress Party, of supporting the heavily armed Justice and Equality Movement, a rebel group battling government forces in the western region of Darfur. The arrest is another indication of the many pitfalls for President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir as he faces widening divisions within Africa’s largest nation. 

Bashir’s government is battling inflation and is worried that opposition parties may take to the streets of Khartoum, the capital. Protests have broken out over rising food prices in the farming state of Aljazzera.  Turabi’s party denied government accusations that its leader was abetting the Darfur rebels, saying the charges were trumped up to keep Turabi from organizing demonstrations.  

"We are making preparations for taking to the street to topple the regime," said Abdullah Hassan Ahmed, undersecretary of the Popular Congress Party. Another party official, Mariam Sadig, said opposition parties had faced years of repression and injustice.

But Mandour Mahadi, a leading ruling-party official, blamed Turabi for “maintaining contact” with a rebel group that had rejected dialogue and "chosen military escalation" in the state of Darfur. The crisis in Darfur is further complicated by the likely breakaway of southern Sudan, which voted in an independence referendum this month.

Opposition parties have often threatened street protests to little effect, but now they say they have a strong reason for rallying people. 

"Prices are going up, and people feel that a lot of important commodities are too expensive," Ahmed said. "These issues will bring people into the streets when you call them. There is now reason to go."

-- Alsanosi Ahmed in Khartoum

Photo: Opposition leader Hassan Turabi. Credit: Reuters