|Biographical detail : ||Fourth military leader to overthrow the Sudanese government since independence in 1956.
The bloodless military coup, in 1989, that propelled Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir – a relatively unknown paratroop brigadier – into the presidency was reported to be instigated by Hassan al-Turabi, an ideologue and leader of the National Islamic Front. The coup highlighted army dissatisfaction with the civilian government, under Sadiq al-Mahdi, the prime minister, particularly over the conduct of the war in the south.
When al-Bashir seized power the US imposed sanctions and added a trade embargo in 1997. A year later, Sudan got another taste of US hostility when cruise missiles destroyed a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum. Washington’s claims that the factory produced precursors for chemical weapons remain unproved. The country survived years of international isolation and sanctions.
Britain, the colonial power, compounded the division, first by reinforcing the inequalities of development between the centre and outlying regions, and then by hastily granting Sudan independence in 1956, without taking the interests of the southern Sudanese into account.
Progress was made in ending the war with the south after 2001, which began in 1983. The comprehensive peace agreement allowing for the eventual referendum on southern independence was signed by al-Bashir in 2005. The referendum, held in January 2011, produced an overwhelming vote in favour of independence, which is due to take place in July 2011.
The West alleged al-Bashir for his suppression of an armed revolt in Darfur, in western Sudan during 2003-4. Charges against him of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity were brought by the International Criminal Court. Bashir rejects the charges.
A gradual process of political and economic reform has been in progress that has improved Sudan’s relations with the West.
The son of a farm labourer Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir was born in Hosh Bannaga, north of Khartoum. He joined Sudan’s army, in 1960, and studied at the Egyptian military academy in Cairo. As a paratroop officer, in 1973, al-Bashir served with the Egyptian army during the war against Israel. Rising through the ranks, he became a garrison commander and brigadier.