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Coup in Sudan

By
NAGUIB MEGALLY

CAIRO, Egypt -- A little-known paratroop commander led army units in a coup against the Sudanese government Friday and promptly proclaimed himself prime minister, defense minister and chief of the armed forces, reports from Khartoum and Egypt's semi-official news agency said.

Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi, armed forces chief Fathi Ahmed Ali and senior government ministers were rounded up during the night and taken to a Khartoum prison, a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter based in Khartoum said. He said some shooting was reported and that troops used tanks to break through the gates of at least one minister's home.

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The coup leader, Brig. Omar Hassan Ahmed el Beshir, ordered a ban on all political parties, political activities and newspapers, proclaimed a nation-wide state of emergency and imposed a 6 p.m. curfew across Sudan, according to reports from Khartoum.

'Dear honorable citizens, the national salvation revolution is a ... revolution of the people against injustice, corruption, partisanship and factionalism,' el Beshir said in a statement on the official Radio Omdurman.

'It is a nationally oriented revolution, not tilted toward the right or left, nor is it a May revolution,' he said, in a reference to the May 1969 revolution of Jaafar Numeiry, who was deposed in a 1985 coup and has in recent weeks been speaking of a return to power from his exile home in Cairo.

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Khartoum residents reached by telex said military units began moving into the capital at about 4 a.m., quickly positioning themselves around the airport, key Nile River bridges, political institutions and the armed forces headquarters.

Residents said the coup was accomplished with a minimum of resistance and that the streets were quiet by midday.

'There seems to be some popular support for the coup, with cars honking their horns when they see soldiers,' one hotel operator said.

El Bashir, identified by Egypt's semi-official Middle East News Agency as the third-ranking officer in Sudan's paratroop corps, issued two decrees at midday in the name of the 'National Salvation Revolution Command Council,' which also called itself 'National Movement for Correcting the Situation.'

In the first decree, read over official Radio Omdurman, el Bashir suspended Sudan's 1986 constitution, dissolved parliament and assumed for himself the power to make all political decisions and appointments.

In a later dispatch, MENA said el Bashir had personally assumed the positions of prime minister, defense minister and chief of the armed forces.

The second decree dissolved all political parties, non-religious organizations and trade unions and banned newspapers and political meetings. It set penalties of up to 10 years in jail for opposing the new regime and prescribed execution for armed opposition.

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In an earlier statement, el Bashir said the coup was mounted because of 'the failure of the political parties in running the affairs of the homeland in order to realize the minimum aspirations of the Sudanese people in enjoying a decent standard of living.'

He accused the political parties of creating 'partisan chaos' in government and said al Mahdi had swung from one policy extreme to the other while 'wasting the country's time and energies by just talking too much.'

The coup came just 12 days after al Mahdi's government arrested four senior military officers and 20 civilians, saying it had foiled a coup plot by backers of Numeiry.

In a recent interview with United Press International from his exile in Cairo, Numeiry urged the Sudanese military to get rid of 'this silly man, Sadiq' and said he was confident he would soon return to Khartoum to end 'the mess' created by the present government.

El Bashir made clear his revolt was not staged in support of Numeiry, saying, 'It is not a May Revolution,' a term used by Numeiry to describe his government.

The coup Friday came at a critical stage in peace talks between Sadiq's government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which has been fighting for increased autonomy in southern Sudan since 1983.

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A unilateral SPLA cease-fire, already extended twice, expired Friday. A second round of peace talks between the government and the rebels was to be held in Addis Ababa on July 4 with a constitutional conference set for September 18.

The war has caused severe hardship and economic decline in one of Africa's poorest nations. The United Nations estimates 250,000 people starved to death in southern Sudan last year because of the war and has mounted a massive relief effort to prevent a repetition this year.

UNICEF executive director James Grant, the U.N.'s special representative for the relief effort, was on an official visit to Khartoum when the coup was launched and has been stranded there by a ban on air travel.

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