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Sudan Releases Opposition Leader

The Sudanese government has released a leading opposition leader. Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the Popular Congress Party, was detained in January after calling for President Omar al-Bashir to turn himself into the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Hassan al-Turabi remains the only major Sudanese politician to publicly call for President al-Bashir to be turned over to the International Criminal Court. He had been arrested on several previous occasions, most recently last year when he was accused of cooperating with a Darfur rebel group that launched an attack on the capital Khartoum.

No explanation for release

Turabi's family had asked for his release, saying the 76-year-old politician was suffering from high blood pressure. But family members say they were given no explanation for why Turabi, who was being held in a prison in the eastern city of Port Sudan, was being released now. Another Popular Congress Party official was also released.

Turabi had been a close ally of President Bashir, helping to orchestrate the coup that brought the president to power in 1989. But the two fell out in a power struggle in 1999.

Positioning himself for power?

While Turabi had been seen as the main Islamist ideologue in the government, responsible for hosting Osama bin Laden in the country during the 1990s, he has since changed his rhetoric, championing democracy and human rights. There are some who wonder whether he is positioning himself as an acceptable international face if President Bashir is forced from power.
The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for President Bashir's arrest last week on charges of crimes against humanity and murder, for the government's role in the conflict in the western Darfur region. Turabi's release may be an attempt at a conciliatory gesture.

Bashir still defiant

But on a trip to Darfur on Sunday, President Bashir remained as defiant as ever.

After dancing before a crowd of thousands in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, Mr. Bashir said the ICC and its supporters are "under my shoe". He threatened to expel further aid organizations, as well as peacekeepers and diplomats, if they do not follow Sudanese laws.

So far the government has kicked out 13 of the most prominent international aid organizations operating in Darfur, including Doctors Without Borders, Care, and Oxfam, accusing them of passing information to the ICC. A foreign ministry spokesman said Sunday the expulsions are irreversible. The agencies have been allowed to continue their operations in the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan.

As with many rallies in Sudan, Sunday's was organized by the government, accompanied by high levels of security.