Profile: Omar Al-Bashir, wanted for war crimes, falls in Sudan

Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan. [PHOTO CREDIT: Al Jazeera]
Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan. [PHOTO CREDIT: Al Jazeera]

Protesters in Sudan on Thursday celebrated a hard-won victory over Omar Al-Bashir as news of the controversial leader’s resignation spread across the country.

The military was forced to intervene and remove Mr Al-Bashir following five days of uninterrupted uprising that held the country to a standstill.

It was not immediately clear whether the military’s intervention was a political solution or an apparent coup d’etat, but media reports said an armed forces military council has been set up to oversee the country’s affairs in the interim.

Multiple former and current officials of Mr Al-Bashir’s government, including his one-time vice-president, were said to have been taken into custody, and Mr Al-Bashir himself has reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia. Conflicting reports, however, said he remained held at the presidential palace in Khartoum by the military.

State television has been anticipating a ‘special announcement’ from the military for several hours, but no appearance has come as of 10:26 a.m. local time.

Although most of the details out of Sudan remained sketchy on Thursday morning, it was all but clear that his 30-year rule had ended.

The voyage of a political hardliner

Mr Al-Bashir was born on January 1, 1944, in a village near the Nile River. He enlisted in the military in 1967, after graduating from the military academy, rising fast through the ranks.

He seized power in a bloodless coup in 1989 as a military general against an elected government, and later dissolved a military council that supported him into office in 1993. The 1989 coup was the fourth in the country’ history, coming 20 years after Gaafar Nimeiry launched the first successful coup in 1969.

Mr Al-Bashir imposed economic policies that were criticised as engendering unprecedented prosperity for Sudan’s Arab population while impoverishing its blacks. Political opponents and rights group were silenced in regular crackdowns, and worsened the country’s image abroad.

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In 1990, he survived a coup attempt and subsequently ordered the execution of over 30 military and police officers accused of the plot. The United States State Department responded by accusing Mr Al-Bashir of high-handedness in 1993 and placing Sudan on its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

A violent rebellion sprang up against Mr Al-Bashir in 2003. Soon afterwards, the Janjaweed militia, a pro-government militia, was widely accused of murdering and raping people in Darfur.

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The International Criminal Court launched a detailed investigation of the Darfur crisis, and its chief prosecutor filed charges against Mr Al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in the region.

Mr Al-Bashir’s handling of the war in Darfur was widely criticised. He was found culpable in the death of over 300,000 people during the conflict. About 2.5 million people were displaced, according to the United Nations.

In 2009, the ICC formally accused Mr Al-Bashir of war crimes relating to Darfur, and issued warrants for his arrest.

In July 2010, the ICC issued a second arrest warrant for Mr Al-Bashir on the same genocide allegation stemming from the five-year deadly campaign in Darfur.

This decision was the first time a sitting president will be under direct threat of arrest and prosecution. It was, however, rejected by African leaders, who dismissed it as a Western conspiracy and witch-hunt and have refused to hand him over for trial ever since.

In 2011, South Sudan broke away following years of division.

Mr Al-Bashir went on to win two presidential elections in 2010 and 2015, retaining his seat with wide margins amidst allegations of irregularities and suppression of opposition.

But he failed to translate his electoral successes to economic comfort for his people. In December 2018, protests began over harsh economic conditions, and inflation skyrocketed above 72 per cent, worsening cost of food and other basic commodities.

Mr Al-Bashir rejected the protesters, accusing them of conspiring with Western diplomats to frustrate Islamist rule. The government said it was addressing the situation, and tried to introduce reforms through currency devaluation and import restrictions.

Citizens in large number, however, countered the reforms as ineffective, and vowed to continue their protest. A five-day sit in that was called last week, energised by a 22-year-old female activist, now appeared to have toppled Mr Al-Bashir after 30 years.

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