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Sudan Releases Top Islamicist Leader

A crowd of supporters has greeted freed Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, more than a year after he was arrested on charges of plotting a coup. Shortly after gaining his freedom Thursday, Mr. Turabi immediately criticized Khartoum's policies as restrictive.

Sudan's government released Mr. Turabi -- and lifted a ban on his party -- as part of a drive by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to reconcile with opposition parties. Mr. Turabi was arrested last year along with other members of his party and accused of trying to topple President Bashir. Earlier, President Bashir announced that all political detainees will be released -- and hailed Sudan's new national unity in the wake of a landmark peace accord with the former southern rebel movement. He also said Sudan's 16 year long state of emergency will be lifted once a new constitution is agreed upon.

Iqbal Jhazbhay is a senior lecturer on the Horn of Africa at the University of South Africa in Pretoria and a member of the board of directors of the Institute for Global Dialogue, based in Johannesburg.

Mr. Jhazbhay talked to VOA English to Africa Service reporter William Eagle about the possible reasons for Mr. Turabi’s release. He says, for example, that Sudan was under international pressure to do so in an effort to stabilize the country. Also, South African president Thabo Mbeki is expected to visit Khartoum after next week’s G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. The analyst also says that, following the example of other democratizing African countries, President Bashir wants to include his former opponent in multi-party elections but is also confident that he will not be able to organize a strong challenge to the ruling party.

The Islamist leader is also a part of the opposition Justice and Equality Movement in the western region of Darfur, the scene of violence between mostly Arab Janjaweed militias and animist black pastoralists. Analyst Iqbal Jhazbhay says the government likely considers Mr. Turabi a viable negotiating partner in any settlement to the conflict there.