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Head of opposition backs ICC's arrest warrant for Bashir

Latest update : 2009-03-09

An Islamist opposition leader in Sudan, Hassan al-Turabi (pictured), says he supports the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir. "I believe in international justice," he said, hours after being freed from jail.

AFP - Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi defiantly hit out on Monday at Khartoum's response to the international arrest warrant against President Omar al-Beshir, hours after being freed from jail for similar remarks.

Turabi, who is the only leading Sudanese politician to have expressed public support for the proceedings against Beshir by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Darfur, said his two months behind bars had not changed his view of the court.

"I am a man of law, I believe in international justice," he told AFP in his house in Khartoum. "We accept international justice, whether it is for us or against us."

A onetime mentor of Beshir who has become one of the veteran president's  his fiercest critics, Turabi said the arrest warrant for the president had left the regime in disarray.

"The government is now in crisis, nobody knows how to conduct political affairs," he said. "There are reactions here that have no rationality... We must win freedom step by step."

Turabi, who was a guiding light in the bloodless 1989 coup that swept Beshir to power before turning against him, was particularly critical of Sudan's decision to expel 13 foreign aid agencies in response to the warrant.

"They want to provoke the world against them," he charged.

UN agencies have warned that the expulsion of the relief organisations, which account for more than half of aid distribution in Darfur, will have "devastating implications" for the 2.7 million people made homeless by the six-year-old-conflict there.

Turabi said he had not been suprised by the ICC to issue the warrant on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, although not genocide, following a recommendation from prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

"I read of course the memo of Ocampo, and I think it was really substantial," he said. "I knew that it would not be rejected completely."

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

"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," he had said before his arrest.

Turabi, who has been in and out of jail over a career spanning some four decades, said he had no idea of the reason for his latest release.

His family said they had told authorities they were concerned about his health, but the 77-year-old appeared physically strong after his detention.

Turabi was last detained briefly in May with members of his Popular Congress party, following an unprecedented attack on Khartoum by Darfur rebels of the 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.

Regarded as one of the driving forces behind the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Africa's largest country in 1983, Turabi became the president's mentor.

In 1989, he rallied behind Beshir, then an obscure military man who had just been promoted to general, to overthrow the democractically 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 protege and was stripped of all his posts a decade later.

He has since become a fierce critic of the six-year-war that government troops and their Arab militia allies have fought against ethnic minority rebels in Darfur.

The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died in the conflict but the regime insists only 10,000 have died.

Date created : 2009-03-09