Sudan's ousted strongman Bashir goes on trial for 1989 coup


Sudan's former president Omar al-Bashir, ousted amid a popular pro-democracy uprising last year, went on trial on Tuesday over the military coup that brought him to power more than three decades ago.

Bashir, 76, and his co-accused could face the death penalty if convicted over the 1989 Islamist-backed overthrow of the democratically elected government of prime minister Sadek al-Mahdi.

It is the first time in the Arab world's modern history that the architect of a coup is being tried for plotting a putsch, although the man dubbed the true brain behind it, Hassan Turabi of the National Islamic Front, died in 2016.

Along with Bashir, 27 other men from the ousted regime were in the dock at the Khartoum court house, which was heavily guarded by police outside with AK-47 assault rifles, batons and tear gas grenades.

"This court will listen to each of them and we will give each of the 28 accused the opportunity to defend themselves," said the presiding judge, Issam al-Din Mohammad Ibrahim.

Sudan's former president Omar al-Bashir, April 2019 (photo: Reuters)

Bashir, who was kept with the other accused in a caged area of the courtroom, did not speak during the trial's opening session which ended after about one hour.

The judge said the court was not large enough to accommodate the more than 190 defence lawyers and adjourned the hearings until 11 August.

Outside the courthouse, dozens of family members of the defendants noisily rallied against the trial, many shouting "Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)".

The trial comes as Sudan's post-revolution transitional government has launched a series of reforms in hopes of fully rejoining the international community.

Sudan has also pledged in principle to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on charges of war crimes and genocide in the Darfur conflict, which left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million in a scorched earth campaign against a 2003 insurgency.

Also in the dock were Bashir's former vice presidents Ali Osman Taha and Bakri Hassan Saleh and several of his former ministers and governors.

They are accused of having plotted the bloodless coup of 30 June 1989 in which the army arrested Sudan's political leaders, suspended parliament, closed the airport and announced the power grab on the radio.

Bashir stayed in power for 30 years before being overthrown on 11 April 2019 after several months of unprecedented, youth-led street demonstrations. (AFP)

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