KHARTOUM — Sudanese Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi was arrested at his Khartoum home on Tuesday for fomenting unrest, a to government official said, just hours after he had 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, as Sudan stands at a crossroads following a landmark southern independence vote expected to lead to the partition of Africa's largest nation.
President Omar al-Beshir's top aide Nafie Ali Nafie said the 78-year-old opposition leader had been arrested for inciting popular unrest.
"The security services have documented and confirmed evidence that Turabi was trying to provoke popular unrest -- the street uprisings that he has mentioned," Nafie told reporters on Tuesday, adding that anyone else involved in such activities would be arrested.
Turabi number two Abdullah Hassan Ahmed said earlier that nine other party members were arrested on Monday and vowed that the party would take to the streets to change the government, which he accused of rigging general elections last year, stoking inflation and curbing civil liberties.
"We are taking to the streets to confront this regime," Ahmed told a news conference in Khartoum, to cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).
"We are giving the (ruling) National Congress Party a choice -- to have a transitional government ... and then to conduct free and fair elections," he said.
"If they don't agree to that, we are going to fight them in the streets. We're not an armed party and we're not going to stage a coup, but we are going to change the regime," he said, adding that a big rally was planned for Wednesday.
In the interview with AFP hours before his arrest, Turabi had said a Tunisia-style revolt, which last week ousted veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was likely in north Sudan, given the country's economic woes and the looming prospect of independence for the south.
"This country has known popular uprisings before," Turabi said, referring to 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."
Turabi had made similarly bold statements earlier this month, as have other opposition leaders, who at a forum on Sunday congratulated the Tunisian people for seeing off Ben Ali and called for the Sudanese president to heed popular demands to share power.
Nafie Ali Nafie rejected the likelihood of a popular uprising in Sudan in a live television interview broadcast late on Monday.
"We in Sudan do not fear a repeat of the Tunisian experience, because we have been through the election process," he said.
He was referring to general elections last April that saw Bashir, who seized power in a bloodless 1989 coup, win a new term in office.
They were the first multi-party polls since the 1986 election of the government that Bashir overthrew but were marred by accusations of fraud and an opposition boycott.
Mariam al-Mahdi, daughter of Sadeq al-Mahdi, the prime minister Bashir ousted, described Sudan's current situation as "critical."
"First the NCP raised the price of goods and then they arrested members of the PCP," said the daughter, who is a senior figure in Mahdi's Umma Party.
The government adopt a raft of austerity measures on January 5 aimed at bolstering the fragile economy, which is burdened by foreign debt and a currency weakened by post-referendum uncertainty.
The PCP's Abdullah Hassan Ahmed said the government had targeted his party, and Turabi in particular, because he was the most active opposition leader.
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.
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