Sudanese military detains prime minister

Khaled al-Mahdi has disappeared while on a visit to area where rebels have been fighting government troops for months Sudan’s military on Saturday detained the country’s prime minister, Khaled al-Mahdi, in what appears to…

Sudanese military detains prime minister

Khaled al-Mahdi has disappeared while on a visit to area where rebels have been fighting government troops for months

Sudan’s military on Saturday detained the country’s prime minister, Khaled al-Mahdi, in what appears to be an apparent coup attempt by ruling party leaders.

Mahdi was delivering a televised address in the morning after a gathering in the key capital, Khartoum, at which he vowed to bring an end to the power struggle between the Islamic fundamentalist ruling party and the smaller Islamic factions.

Mahdi, who was elected prime minister earlier this year, was last seen on Friday night in his hotel room and has not been heard from since. He had been en route to South Kordofan state when he was intercepted by the military on Saturday.

Mahdi’s disappearance came during a showdown between members of the Islamic movement and a military faction led by General Mohamed Nureldin al-Atwer, the chief of staff of the ruling National Congress party. The dissident faction’s supporters have been demanding early elections.

Mahdi, a former student leader, has been long considered the leader of the movement. He was president of the Sudanese Islamic party in the 1990s, when the government was at the peak of its power, and the president in 1991-1995.

His speech on Saturday drew a rebuke from the armed forces chief of staff, General Mohamed Nureldin al-Atwer, who said that “distrust between the government and different factions of the party…is now reaching a dangerous level”.

“The party has formed its own political group,” al-Atwer said. “In reaction, there are irresponsible elements among them who believe they are in competition with other parties.”

The minister for information, Ahmed Bilal Osman, denied suggestions that the prime minister had been detained and said that his “intention is clear: to reach a political agreement with different factions and carry out the law”.

Rights groups are also closely monitoring the situation in the Darfur region and elsewhere, where discontent with the government is brewing. Two massacres in April in the Darfur region sparked protests and unrest across the country.

Friday night’s meeting between Mahdi and party leaders was held to discuss the illegal takeover of an oil joint venture by a Salafi group. But the meeting appeared to have only triggered a lengthy war of words between a group of senior party leaders who accused the prime minister of being opposed to the party’s “revolution”.

The Sudanese government has seen its legitimacy strained as rebel groups have been fighting government troops and militia groups since 2003.

Meanwhile in South Kordofan state, the whereabouts of Abu Zain al-Abbas, leader of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement, remain unclear.

Al-Abbas, who has led a five-year insurgency against the Khartoum government, is reported to have vanished on Saturday while touring area considered neutral for talks with southern-based rebels.

It is believed the talks have been complicated by the government’s seizure of territory that was once in rebel hands, including several towns that were recently recaptured.

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