Hassan Turabi (File photo)
The Sudanese government has lifted its ban on an opposition party and freed the party's prominent leader, Hassan al-Turabi, who had been in detention for more than a year. Sudan's long-running state of emergency has also been lifted in most areas of the country.

The secretary general of Sudan's External Information Council, Rasheed Khider, tells VOA Mr. Turabi's release is part of a larger effort by President Omar el-Bashir to improve the country's human-rights situation.

"The president, in his address, has declared that no longer the Sudan will have people who are behind bars for political reasons, and this includes Mr. Turabi," said Rasheed Khider. "This means that the political process is going to have a government and an opposition."

Mr. Turabi, who leads the opposition Popular Congress Party, was arrested last March over government allegations that he and other sympathizers of rebels in the volatile Darfur region had tried to organize a coup. He has been detained since then.

Mr. Turabi is said to support the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the rebel groups fighting in the volatile Darfur region and also in the east, which is flaming tensions with neighboring Eritrea. He has openly criticized the government's policy in Darfur.

A spokeswoman for another opposition party, the Umma Party, Mariam Al-Mahdi, says she and her colleagues were at the Popular Congress Party's headquarters when Mr. Turabi was released.

"They were very enthusiastic about seeing their leader and they were hailing many slogans of their support and their principles," said Mariam Al-Mahdi. "They were quite enthusiastic."

Ms. Mahdi says her party thinks Mr. Turabi's release is a good sign of a democratic transformation, and urged the government to release all political prisoners.

At one time, Mr. Turabi was chairman of President Bashir's National Congress Party and speaker of Sudan's parliament.

The prominent Sunni Muslim was considered to be the country's spiritual leader, advising President Bashir on Sharia, or traditional Islamic, law and other religious matters.

The two had a falling-out in 1999 over a bill limiting the president's powers. Mr. Turabi subsequently formed his opposition party, and has been jailed twice since then.

During President Bashir's speech marking the 1989 coup that brought him to power, it was also announced that the government would lift the state of emergency imposed in 1989, except in Darfur and the eastern states of Red Sea and Kassala, where fighting is taking place.

The state of emergency gave security forces wide-ranging powers to arrest and detain those they suspected of being a threat to the country.