Sudan: Bashir's Health a Key Driver for Coup Attempt Says Presidential Assistant

Khartoum — The participants in an alleged coup attempt uncovered last month in Sudan justified their move in saying that president Omer Hassan al-Bashir's poor health will not enable him to carry out his duties, presidential assistant said today.

In a live interview broadcasted on Sudan TV on Saturday night, Nadir Ali Nafie said that the conspirators were aware that the "huge popularity" Bashir enjoys in the army and among the ordinary people would pose a difficulty.

As a result the plotters stressed in their communication with different parties that Bashir is "incapacitated" and "will no longer be able to carry out his duties" as president but that if the coup succeeded they will treat him with dignity and respect.

Nafie however did not address rumors about his boss's health nor did not follow the official line of denying speculations about Bashir being terminally ill.

The 68-years old Sudanese leader underwent two surgeries in his throat since August in Qatar and Saudi Arabia respectively. Officials in the presidency confirmed the first surgery only two months later following growing talk that Bashir was ill.

Bashir's brother Abdullahi was the first to disclose that the president had a tumor in his vocal cords but said it was benign. The revelation embarrassed other Sudanese officials who gave less serious accounts of Bashir's ailment.

The Sudanese president has cut down his public appearances particularly in conferences but continues to hold bilateral meetings with members of his government and foreign dignitaries.

Last month he was reportedly more than an hour late to the opening ceremony Islamic Movement (IM) convention attended by Islamist figures from all over the world. He also cancelled his attendance at the last minute at the 12th conference of the Arab ministers of minerals that took place in Khartoum in late November.

In an separate interview with Cairo-based Al-Ahram al-Youm, Nafie said that ex-spy chief Salah Gosh who is held in connection with this coup attempt, has been planning it for a long time.

"The [coup] attempt wasn't yesterday and Salah Gosh wasn't planning it yesterday but was working on it for a while," Nafie said.

The presidential assistant confirmed media reports that other political parties were involved and appeared to confirm that former Prime Minister and leader of the National Umma Party (NUP) al-Sadiq al-Mahdi was part of it.

He was commenting on remarks attributed to al-Mahdi in which he said that Gosh offered him to head a new government. The NUP later described the report as "misleading" and was said in a different context.

But Nafie said he was not convinced.

"Is it logical that al-Sadiq al-Mahdi disclose what went between him and Gosh in the past without meaning it?" he questioned.

The Sudanese government initially said that the coup, which is linked to disenfranchised Islamists within the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), was planned in participation with an opposition political party but it did not name any. It also said that two opposition members were arrested on charge of making contacts with the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Among those accused was Brigadier General Mohamed Ibrahim Abdel-Galil who is better known as 'Wad Ibrahim'. The latter is a veteran of a special force that fought southern rebels during the north-south civil war. He was also responsible for Bashir's presidential security for several years.

The coup attempt was seen by observers as strong evidence of a growing split within the Islamist-backed regime. It is not clear whether the government however will move ahead with prosecuting the coup plotters amid reports of mediation efforts by some NCP members.

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