Sudan president pardons officers jailed over alleged coup bid

KHARTOUM Wed Apr 17, 2013 5:10pm BST

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a joint news conference with his South Sudan's counterpart Salva Kiir in Juba April 12, 2013. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a joint news conference with his South Sudan's counterpart Salva Kiir in Juba April 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andreea Campeanu

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KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir pardoned nine army officers on Wednesday, days after they were jailed for their role in an alleged coup attempt, state news agency SUNA reported.

The brief report did not say why Bashir had ordered their release - and the pardon did not include other senior officials the government said were caught up in the plot, including the country's former head of intelligence.

Hundreds of supporters of one of the released men - Wad Ibrahim, a senior army officer and prominent Islamist - gathered outside his Khartoum home to celebrate.

Ibrahim told Reuters at his house he had only been interested in pushing for reform. "We thank the Sudanese people and the armed forces ...(I hope) the country will reform and people will unite," he said.

Bashir has ruled Sudan for 23 years, weathering rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, the loss of most of the country's oil with the secession of the country's south in 2011 and an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court over his crackdown on a revolt in the western region of Darfur.

The alleged coup attempt amplified a debate about Bashir's future and about who might one day replace him.

Sudanese authorities arrested the country's former spy chief Salah Gosh and other senior military and security officials in November after foiling what the government said was a coup plot.

The army officers had been sentenced on April 7 to prison terms of between two and five years. The trial of Gosh and other security officers has yet to start.

Bashir had ordered the release of all political prisoners at the beginning of the month as part of a general amnesty. It was not immediately clear if Wednesday's releases were part of that programme.

High food prices in Sudan caused by the loss of the oil - and with it the source of foreign currency used to import wheat and other staples - have triggered some protests against Bashir since the South seceded in July 2011.

Some Islamists inside the army and the ruling National Congress Party have also complained that Bashir and other senior leaders have abandoned the Muslim values of the 1989 bloodless coup that brought him to power.

But Sudan has avoided the sort of mass unrest and political turmoil that unseated rulers in neighbouring Egypt and Libya over the past two years.

(Writing by Maggie Fick in Cairo; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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