Bashir: The ousted au­to­crat with many faces

The 75 year old for­mer pres­i­dent is sen­tenced to two years in a cor­rec­tional cen­tre for the el­derly

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Khartoum, Su­dan - From sol­dier to Is­lamist, pop­ulist and war crimes sus­pect, Su­dan’s de­posed leader Omar Bashir showed many dif­fer­ent faces dur­ing his three decades of iron-fisted rule.

The 75 year old, who was one of Africa’s long­est-serv­ing pres­i­dents, has been held in prison since his ouster in April on cor­rup­tion charges that saw him sen­tenced on Satur­day to two years in a cor­rec­tional cen­tre for the el­derly.

Known for his trade­mark danc­ing and wav­ing of a stick be­fore ad­dress­ing loy­al­ists, Bashir had re­mained de­fi­ant in the face of grow­ing street protests in the months be­fore his over­throw.

But his fate was sealed when the army in­ter­vened on April 11 to oust Bashir, who swept to power in a coup backed by Is­lamists in 1989.

For years the Su­danese leader had proven him­self to be a po­lit­i­cal sur­vivor, evad­ing not only the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) but also a myr­iad of do­mes­tic chal­lenges.

A ca­reer sol­dier, Bashir was well known for his pop­ulist touch, in­sist­ing on be­ing close to crowds and ad­dress­ing them in col­lo­quial Su­danese Ara­bic.

He was in­dicted by the Hague-based ICC in 2009 on war crimes charges over a lon­grun­ning con­flict in Dar­fur, but went on to win re-election twice in polls boy­cotted by op­po­si­tion groups.

In 2010, he was also in­dicted by the ICC for al­leged geno­cide.

But it was a gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion to triple bread prices that brought pro­test­ers onto the streets in De­cem­ber 2018, as the coun­try grap­pled with reg­u­lar short­ages of food, medicines and for­eign cur­rency.

The protests mor­phed into nationwide demon­stra­tions against Bashir’s rule, triggering un­rest that left dozens dead, hun­dreds wounded and thou­sands jailed.

Diplo­matic moves

De­spite the ICC in­dict­ments, Bashir had reg­u­larly vis­ited re­gional coun­tries and also Russia.

Days be­fore the protests erupted, he trav­elled to Da­m­as­cus to meet Syria’s Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, be­com­ing the first Arab leader to do so since the Syrian con­flict be­gan in 2011.

At home, Bashir last year hosted talks be­tween neigh­bour­ing South Su­dan’s lead­ers, helping to bro­ker a ten­ta­tive peace deal af­ter five years of in­tense con­flict in the world’s new­est coun­try.

South Su­dan had gained its in­de­pen­dence in 2011, when Bashir sur­prised his crit­ics by giv­ing his bless­ing to a se­ces­sion that saw the south take the bulk of Su­dan’s oil fields, some six years af­ter a peace deal ended two decades of con­flict be­tween north and south.

He also joined a Saudi-led coali­tion against Shi­ite rebels in Ye­men, im­prov­ing ties with energy-rich Gulf states, al­though the pol­icy has been crit­i­cised by his op­po­nents at home.

Bashir, who has two wives and no children, was born in 1944 in Hosh Ban­naga, north of Khartoum, to a farm­ing fam­ily.

He en­tered the mil­i­tary at a young age, ris­ing through the ranks and join­ing an elite parachute reg­i­ment. He fought along­side the Egyp­tian army in the 1973 Arab-Is­raeli war.

In 1989, then a brigade com­man­der, he led a blood­less coup against the demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment.

“Bashir be­came skil­ful over time. He learned the trade. At the be­gin­ning, he was not a prom­i­nent fig­ure,” said Marc Lavergne, an Africa ex­pert at the Na­tional Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific Re­search in Paris.

Bashir led Su­dan to­wards a more rad­i­cal brand of Is­lam, host­ing Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and send­ing vol­un­teers to fight in the coun­try’s civil war with the south Su­danese. In 1993, Washington put Su­dan on its list of ‘state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism’ and four years later slapped Khartoum with a trade em­bargo - only lifted in 2017 - over charges that in­cluded hu­man rights abuses.

When in­sur­gents launched a re­bel­lion in Dar­fur in 2003, his gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to un­leash the armed forces and al­lied mili­tia brought him fur­ther in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism.

Around 300,000 peo­ple have been killed in the Dar­fur con­flict, the United Na­tions says, and more than two mil­lion dis­placed.

But it was cor­rup­tion charges that landed him in court in Su­dan, where he was ac­cused of il­le­gally ac­quir­ing and us­ing for­eign funds.

Bashir ad­mit­ted to hav­ing re­ceived a to­tal of US$90mn from Saudi lead­ers. The graft trial cen­tred on US$25mn re­ceived from Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

Bashir also faces sep­a­rate charges over the deaths of pro­test­ers and the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

Bashir be­came skil­ful over time. He learned the trade Marc Lavergne


This file photo shows Su­danese Pres­i­dent Omar Bashir ad­dress­ing par­lia­ment in the cap­i­tal Khartoum on April 1 this year

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