Bashir - survivor defying international justice

2015-06-14 17:59
African leaders pose at the AU Summit in Johannesburg. Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir is among them. (Mahlatse Gallens, Twitter)

African leaders pose at the AU Summit in Johannesburg. Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir is among them. (Mahlatse Gallens, Twitter)

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Khartoum - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was temporarily banned by a court from leaving South Africa on Sunday, has defied war crimes charges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) since 2009.

Despite being indicted by the ICC in 2009 and again in 2010 on genocide charges, Bashir won elections in April with more than 94% of the vote, facing an opposition boycott and a handful of little-known challengers.

The 71-year-old has proved to be a political survivor, since seizing power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup, facing down not only the ICC indictments but also a myriad of domestic challenges.

Dressed in traditional gleaming white robes and sporting his trademark thick moustache, Bashir appeared triumphant at his inauguration on June 2, promising to turn a "new page" for Sudan.

At a ceremony attended by the presidents of Egypt, Kenya and Zimbabwe, Bashir said he would mend Sudan's foreign relations and remedy its ailing economy.

And in the lead-up to the elections, he visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt, flouting travel restrictions imposed by his ICC indictments.

At home, parliament granted him greater powers last year and recent diplomatic successes have left him riding high.

Bashir has also boosted his image abroad with Sudan helping to broker a deal in March between Egypt and Ethiopia to resolve a dispute over the sharing of waters from the Nile.

He also joined a Saudi-led coalition against Shiite rebels in Yemen, improving ties with the oil-rich Gulf nations.

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

Bashir, who has two wives and no children, was born in 1944 in Hosh Bannaga to an agricultural family, in Sudan's Arab heartland north of Khartoum.

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.

He was backed by the National Islamic Front of his then mentor Hassan al-Turabi.

War crimes indictments

Under Turabi's influence he led Sudan towards a more radical brand of Islam, hosting al-Qaeda and sending jihadist volunteers to fight in the country's civil war with the south Sudanese.

Washington slapped Sudan with a trade embargo in 1997 over charges that included human rights abuses.

In 1999, Bashir moved to end Sudan's isolation, ousting Turabi from his inner circle and later surprising his staunchest critics by signing a peace accord in 2005 to end more than two decades of devastating north-south conflict.

When ethnic insurgents launched a rebellion in Darfur in 2003, his government's decision to unleash the armed forces and allied militia saw him slide back into isolation.

More than 300 000 people have been killed in the conflict, the UN says, and more than two million displaced.

Since 2011 he has also faced insurgencies in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, launched by the Southern People's Liberation Army-North.

In recent years, he has weathered other challenges.

Sudan's economy suffered badly from the south's split in 2011, losing most of its vital oil revenues.

Protests that erupted in Khartoum in September 2013 over the lifting of oil subsidies were brutally suppressed by security forces, with dozens killed.

Bashir tried to smooth tensions over the protests by announcing a "national dialogue" with the opposition to address Sudan's myriad problems.

But critics said the offer was not sincere, and Bashir was further criticised when he announced in October he was running for re-election after previously denying he would.

Read more on:    omar al- bashir  |  pretoria  |  sudan  |  central africa
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