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Sudan’s Deposed Dictator Makes First Appearance Since Ouster

Monday June 17, 2019
By Declan Walsh

Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudan’s deposed leader, leaving the prosecutor’s office in Khartoum on Sunday.CreditCreditUmit Bektas/Reuters

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan’s deposed dictator, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was taken from a prison in the capital Khartoum to face corruption charges on Sunday in his first public appearance since he was ousted from power in April.

Appearing in a white robe and turban, as he did for much of his 30 years in power, Mr. al-Bashir was led through the gates of Kober prison, a notorious facility where he once sent his own enemies.

His appearance quelled months of speculation among many Sudanese who suspected that, contrary to assertions by the country’s military leaders, Mr. al-Bashir was being quietly detained in luxury or had even managed to flee the country.

Security officials escorted Mr. al-Bashir, 75, to a vehicle that took him to the chief prosecutor’s office, where he was formally charged with corruption and money laundering. He did not speak to reporters waiting outside the jail.

Last month, Mr. al-Bashir was charged separately with involvement in the killing of protesters during the street demonstrations that led to his ouster on April 11. He did not appear in public then.

His predicament is a sharp contrast with the fortunes of his former enforcer, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, a militia leader groomed by Mr. al-Bashir who in recent weeks has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in Sudan.

General Hamdan faced global condemnation after June 3 when his paramilitary unit, the Rapid Support Forces, stormed through a protest site in central Khartoum, killing at least 118 people in a frenzy of shooting, rape and pillage, according to witnesses and doctors’ groups. General Hamdan’s troops now control Khartoum, causing many to view him as the country’s de facto leader, even if he is formally outranked by an older general.

But General Hamdan, known as Hemeti, appeared to be laying the groundwork for a political campaign this weekend when he addressed thousands of supporters at events in and around Khartoum, behaving in a political style that bore striking similarities to that of Mr. al-Bashir.

On Saturday, General Hamdan drove in a long, heavily armed convoy to Garrhi, nearly 40 miles north of Khartoum, where he addressed supporters in a dusty clearing near the Nile.

Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, top right, the deputy head of the military council that assumed power in Sudan after the overthrow of Mr. al-Bashir, seemed to be laying the groundwork for a political campaign during a rally in Garawee, Sudan, on Saturday.CreditAssociated Press

He claimed that Western leaders were part of an unspecified plot to undermine him.

As he arrived under a blazing sun, he stood on top of a military vehicle, waving a stick at the cheering crowd in a manner that was reminiscent of Mr. al-Bashir. In his speech, he was sharply critical of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which led the protests that forced Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster.

“Askariya! Askariya!” his supporters yelled during the speech, using the Arabic term for “army rule.”

Hundreds of soldiers surrounded General Hamdan as he spoke, positioned on buildings and trucks or sitting in pickups armed with heavy guns. After the rally, the vehicles sped off behind the general in a long trail of dust.

On Sunday, General Hamdan addressed a gathering of supporters in Khartoum.

The Transitional Military Council, which formally rules Sudan, wants to dampen a wave of withering global criticism as the extent of the violence on June 3, including numerous rapes and scores of bodies flung in the Nile, increasingly comes to light.

General Hamdan has been less apologetic. In an interview with The New York Times last week, he professed to disliking politics — “I hate politicians,” he said — but added that his ascent to power was necessary for stability. He showed few signs of intending to vacate power.

“The country needs the Rapid Support Forces more than the Rapid Support Forces need the country,” he said.

That growing prominence could put General Hamdan at odds with the regular army, stoking fears of further instability as Sudan maneuvers through the turbulent post-Bashir era.

Another test will be Mr. al-Bashir’s forthcoming corruption trial.

Officials raided his Khartoum homes in the days after his ouster, confiscating bundles of cash in dollars, euros and Sudanese currency. That money — millions of dollars — is now a central part of the case prosecutors are building against him. An additional 41 officials from his government also face corruption charges.

Mr. al-Bashir is not, however, in any immediate danger of answering to the charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that he faces at the International Criminal Court in The Hague over his role in the conflict in the western region of Darfur.

The international court issued an arrest warrant for Mr. al-Bashir a decade ago. But Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Military Transitional Council, who also served in Darfur, said Mr. al-Bashir would never be extradited to face those charges in a foreign court.

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