KHARTOUM (AFP) – Sudanese security officers arrested Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi from his Khartoum home early on Tuesday just hours after he warned in an AFP interview of a Tunisia-style uprising.
Turabi’s detention shortly before 1:00 am (2200 GMT Monday) was part of a wave of arrests against members of his Popular Congress Party (PCP), his son Siddig al-Turabi said, as Sudan stands at a crossroads following a landmark southern independence vote expected to lead to the partition of Africa’s largest nation.
The Sudan Media Centre, a news agency close to the Khartoum security services, said that Turabi’s latest arrest followed the “confessions” of senior leaders of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, captured in the western region of Darfur, that he “guided and financed” them.
A spokesman for the Islamist JEM, the most heavily armed of the Darfur rebel groups fighting government troops and allied militias for the past eight years, described the accusation as a “total fabrication”.
A Turabi aide said the longtime kingpin turned bitter critic of President Omar al-Bashir’s regime had been detained at his home in the Sudanese capital. “It is true,” Siddig said, adding: “They never tell you why people are arrested.
“It may be because of the opposition press conference,” he said, referring to a forum on Sunday at which opposition leaders joined in congratulating the Tunisian people on seeing off veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and calling for Bashir to heed popular demands to share power.
“He was arrested normally,” Siddig said, meaning his 78-year-old father had sustained no injuries during his detention.
“We have other people arrested in the party. This is a big wave of arrests.”
In the interview with AFP hours before his arrest, Turabi had said that a Tunisia-style revolt was likely in the north as Sudan faces the prospect of partition.
“This country has known popular uprisings before,” Turabi had told AFP, referring to popular revolts which toppled military regimes in 1964 and 1985.
“What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan,” he said, referring to the month-long deadly protests that prompted Ben Ali to take refuge in Saudi Arabia after 23 years of iron-fisted rule.
“If it doesn’t, then there will be a lot of bloodshed.”
Top Bashir aide Nafie Ali Nafie went on state television to reject Turabi’s comments.
“We in Sudan do not fear a repeat of the Tunisian experience, because we have been through the election process,” he said in the interview late on Monday that was carried on the front pages of the main Khartoum dailies.
Last April Bashir, who seized power in a bloodless 1989 coup, won a new term in office in the first multi-party polls since the 1986 election of the government that Bashir overthrew. But the April vote was marred by accusations of fraud and an opposition boycott.
The Khartoum authorities have long accused Turabi of having links with the JEM, something the rebels have consistently denied.
“It is total fabrication,” JEM spokesman Ahmed Hussein Adam, told AFP by telephone from the Qatari capital Doha.
“JEM has absolutely no connection with Turabi and his party. It is just old propaganda from the regime.”
Adam said that the 12 JEM leaders whose “confessions” allegedly sparked Turabi’s arrest, had been tortured since their capture last week.
“They have tortured our prisoner of war. They have to stop doing it,” he said.
Turabi had told AFP: “I’m quite sure if there’s any uprising here, the Darfur region will be active.”
In May 2008, JEM fighters launched an unprecedented march on Khartoum, reaching the capital’s twin city of Omdurman just across the Nile from the presidential palace before being repulsed with heavy losses.
Turabi was a key figure behind the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power but has spent long periods in jail or under house arrest for his outspoken comments since the two men fell out in 1999.