Sudan mourns opposition boss Turabi

Monday March 7 2016

Sudanese opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi. Hundreds of mourners, including members of his Popular Congress Party, attended his funeral on March 6, 2016. PHOTO | AFP

Sudanese opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi. Hundreds of mourners, including members of his Popular Congress Party, attended his funeral on March 6, 2016. PHOTO | AFP 

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Veteran Sudan Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi, one of the fiercest critics of President Omar al-Bashir’s government, died of a heart attack on Saturday aged 84, officials said.

“The Islamist intellectual Hassan al-Turabi has died,” the state broadcaster reported.

It interrupted its regular programming and broadcast Islamic verses from the Koran that are recited for the dead.

The president’s office also announced Turabi’s death in a statement carried by the official SUNA news agency, describing him as a “scholar” and said he died at his party’s office.

A medical source earlier told AFP that Turabi was taken to the intensive care unit of Khartoum’s Royal Care International hospital “after suffering a heart attack in the morning and died” there.

In the evening, an ambulance carrying his body left the hospital for the Turabi family home in the city, an AFP correspondent said.

Hundreds of mourners, including members of his Popular Congress Party, gathered outside the house to meet the ambulance as women wept.

Many eulogised the opposition leader, while others embraced or shook hands as they offered each other condolences, the correspondent said.

Bashir himself arrived at the Turabi home to offer his condolences, as did members of his government as well as opposition figures.

The president entered the house to see the family and then left without making any statements.

On Sunday, Turabi’s shrouded body was laid to rest in the Burri cemetery in the east of the capital.

Senior Sudanese officials joined some 3,000 mourners at the funeral.

Police were out in force as Turabi’s body was laid to rest.

Mourners from his Popular Congress Party, many of them wearing traditional robes and turbans, paraded banners bearing his photograph and paying tribute to his life.

First Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh was among several members of the government who attended the ceremony but President Bashir was absent after flying out to Jakarta for an Islamic summit that opens on Monday.

Turabi was one of the founders of the Sudanese Islamic movement before the country’s independence and led the party for a long time.

Dr Turabi played a key role in the military coup that brought President Bashir to power.

He authored several Islamic books on the Quran interpretation and many other ideological issues.    

Turabi was detained in May 2010, a month after Sudan’s first competitive polls since 1986 for denouncing the election as fraudulent.

Turabi was the only Sudanese politician to support a warrant issued for Bashir’s arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over the regime’s conduct of the conflict in Darfur.

Turabi was detained several times over a career spanning four decades, including in January 2009 two days after urging Bashir to give himself up to the ICC.

An ideologue with influence beyond Sudan’s borders, Turabi was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Sudan in 1983, which sparked a devastating 22-year civil war with the mainly Christian, African south that cost an estimated two million lives.

The Western-educated Turabi held a master’s degree in law from London and a doctorate from Sorbonne University in Paris.

He spoke English, French and German fluently as well as Arabic, and his language skills helped him gain access to foreign news media through which he issued repeated calls for an international Islamic revolution.

Often described as the most influential figure in modern Sudanese politics, Turabi was born in 1932 in the eastern town of Kassala to moderately religious parents and had his first Koranic lessons from his grandfather, the head of a Sufi order of Muslim mystics.