Sudan leader held over Tunisia-style protest


Sudanese authorities have arrested Islamist opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi and nine members of his party, after the opposition said it was planning street protests similar to those in Tunisia.

The opposition National Consensus Forces on Jan. 16 called for street protests over planned austerity measures, including a lifting of fuel subsidies and a sugar price increase. The government says the measures are necessary to cope with the likely secession of the oil-rich south following a referendum on independence last week.

The opposition is looking to Tunisia, where protests over the past month forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on Jan. 14 after 23 years in power.

The government is “afraid that something similar could happen here,” Wesal al-Mahdi, Turabi’s wife, told Bloomberg on Tuesday from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. “What happened in Tunisia has scared them.”

Turabi's party called for a "popular revolution" if the Sudanese government did not reverse price increases.

Abdalla Hassan Ahmed, Turabi’s deputy at the Popular Congress Party, which is part of the National Consensus Forces, told reporters in  Khartoum that Turabi had been arrested by "an unprecedented number of security forces.”

“We will go to the streets,” though no date has been fixed for the protests, Ahmed said.

Turabi had said an uprising in north Sudan, similar to recent developments in Tunisia, was "likely."

"This country has known popular uprisings before," he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse hours before his arrest. "What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan ... If it doesn't, then there will be a lot of bloodshed. The whole country is armed. In the towns, it will be a popular uprising, but in Darfur, and in Kordofan as well, they have weapons."

Turabi has been in and out of jail since he left President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's ruling party in 1999.