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Latest News Last Updated: Jan 25, 2010 - 7:50:26 AM

Sudan's ousted PM to challenge Beshir in election

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Sudan's ousted PM to challenge Beshir in election

KHARTOUM Sudan's former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who President Omar al-Beshir ousted in a military coup 20 years ago, will run against him in the April elections, his party said on Monday.

Mahdi, 74, heads the influential Umma opposition party and is spiritual leader of "Ansar," a Sufi brotherhood that venerates the famous Mahdi who defeated British colonial forces under General Gordon in 1885.

"He has been nominated presidential candidate," an Umma party official told AFP.

Descended from Sudan's legendary Islamist ruler, Sadiq al-Mahdi has held the premiership twice before, in 1966-67 when he was just 30, and again after his party won Sudan's last multi-party elections in 1986.

Umma is the main opposition party in the north, alongside the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), while Beshir heads the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

Mohammed Osmane al-Mirghani, DUP chief, will not run in the elections, his party said.

The DUP will instead field party spokesman Hatem al-Sir as its candidate in the elections, his assistant Walid al-Bakri told AFP.

Rumours have circulated in Khartoum for weeks of Mahdi's plan to run as a presidential candidate, but his party's political bureau only took the decision to nominate him on Sunday evening.

The nomination is significant because "it might impact the process of reunion of the Umma party," Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group (ICG) told AFP.

"If that happens, that will draw attention and draw momentum as far as alliances are concerned in the North," he said.

Several members, who over the last few years abandoned the Umma and the DUP to join Beshir's party, could then rejoin the two opposition parties, Hikmat believes.

"I think in the coming days, the Umma party will become stronger and stronger," he said.

The presidential, legislative and regional elections due to take place in April are a key element of a 2005 peace deal between Beshir's government in the mostly Muslim north and the SPLM in the largely Christian south that brought an end to a 22-year civil war.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement is a former southern rebel movement which has chosen as its presidential candidate Yasser Arman, a secular Muslim from north Sudan who made common cause with the SPLM during the devastating civil war.

Analysts say that while he has strong support in the south, he may be less popular in the north.

But Arman said on Thursday he expected to build on the SPLM's southern support base by campaigning on behalf of all the marginalised groups of Sudan's far-flung regions.

According to analysts the opposition would like to split the presidential vote to prevent Beshir from achieving the simple majority he needs to win, which would lead to a second round and enable the opposition to field just one candidate against him.

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