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Numeiri Spends Days in Cairo Dreaming of Power : Exiled Sudan Leader Plotting His Return

June 25, 1989|DALIA BALIGH | Associated Press

CAIRO — Four years after he was ousted in a palace coup, Sudan's former president, Jaafar Numeiri, spends his time in a large, slightly decrepit villa, plotting to seize power again.

He has aged visibly and put on weight during the years as a political outcast in Cairo. The villa and the guards patrolling it with automatic weapons are courtesy of the Egyptian government, which granted Numeiri political asylum after he was stranded in Cairo by his defense minister's coup.

Numeiri had just returned from an aid-seeking visit to Washington on April 6, 1985, when Gen. Abdul-Rahman Swareddahab sided with civil disobedience campaigners to oust him.

Numeiri had been in power 16 years.

During a rare interview earlier this month, the former strongman wore a white suit instead of the military uniform or traditional flowing white robes he favored as president of Africa's largest country.

He spoke of his anger at his defense minister's betrayal, his life as an exile, the "government of thieves" ruling his country and his advice to Sudanese supporters: "Take over the power."

The 59-year-old Numeiri said he socializes mostly with Sudanese who live in Egypt or visit Cairo and has little contact with his Egyptian benefactors other than requesting renovations for the villa.

His kinky hair has turned almost totally white behind his receding hairline. His waistline has expanded into a pot belly.

Numeiri claimed overwhelming support in Sudan and urged his countrymen to overthrow Prime Minister Sadek Mahdi, elected in 1986 in balloting overseen by Swareddahab's transitional military government.

"I have felt hurt by the news I get from Sudan and about the suffering of the Sudanese people," Numeiri said.

"Those who were deceived now call for the regime of Jaafar Numeiri. . . . I have received numerous letters and people, all asking me to save Sudan after it has fallen in a deep abyss, as they put it."

Sudan was near bankruptcy when Numeiri was overthrown, and little has changed. Experts blame a succession of weak coalition governments that have failed to undertake reforms and work decisively to end a civil war that began in 1983.

Sudanese appear disillusioned by Mahdi's lack of progress, and some have been heard to speak wistfully of the Numeiri era, but there is no visible support for the ousted president on the streets.

Numeiri insisted in the interview that the Sudan he ruled was among the world's most democratic and prosperous countries. But in 1985, thousands of Sudanese danced in the streets after the coup, which was triggered by demonstrations against high prices, Islamic law and Numeiri's iron-fisted security policies.

Similar demonstrations have rocked the country this year and, under pressure from the military, Mahdi was forced to form a broader-based coalition and prepare to negotiate with the rebels.

Mahdi's government has convicted several members of Numeiri's military regime for corruption and has a standing request that Egypt return the field marshal for trial. President Hosni Mubarak has refused, invoking Egypt's long tradition of providing political asylum.

Numeiri's presence in Cairo has strained Egypt's relations with its southern neighbor.

Twice the former leader has broken his hosts' ban on political activity. In 1985, he sent recorded messages to Sudan urging people to restore his power. This year, he has given a handful of interviews and admitted sending tapes and written speeches to Sudan to mark the 20th anniversary of his seizure of power.

Numeiri said Cairo has expressed displeasure, "but the pressure on me from the Sudanese people does not allow me to keep my word to the Egyptian government."

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