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The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Khartoum
"The question is whether Sadiq al-Mahdi can help bring about the change that millions of Sudanese so desperately want"
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Sadiq el-Mahdi on Network Africa
"We think the current elections are non-elections"
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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 15:03 GMT
Sudan celebrations continue
Former Sudanese prime minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi
Mr Mahdi wants to work for political pluralism in Sudan
The last elected prime minister of Sudan, Sadiq al-Mahdi, has led his supporters in Friday Prayers in Khartoum - a day after returning from four years of exile.

Thousands gathered to hear Mr Mahdi preach at the mosque of his great grandfather and religious leader, The Mahdi, who fought the British in the 19th century.

In his address, he urged people to work together to solve Sudan's problems peacefully.

I will work hand in hand with the concerned parties to bring peace and stability to the country

Sadiq al-Mahdi
He said he had come back to work with all parties for a return to democracy and an end to the 17-year civil war.

Mr Mahdi was given a tumultous welcome on his return to Khartoum on Thursday.

He fled Sudan in 1996, seven years after being overthrown by the current leader, General Omar al-Bashir.

He had spent much of that time in jail or under house arrest.

Mr Mahdi says he is returning to reactivate his Umma party, which last year left an opposition alliance and began the process of reconciliation with the government.

Presidential approval

He has returned to Khartoum with the approval of the man who overthrew him.

Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir
President Bashir approved of Mahdi's return
"Sadiq al-Mahdi has the choice to participate in the political life of the country, either in the opposition or in the government," Mr Bashir told a news conference on Friday.

Until last year the Umma party was part of the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of northern and southern rebel groups trying to overthrow General Bashir.

But last year the Umma party broke ranks with the NDA and began a process of reconciliation with the government.

That has already led to the return of dozens of Umma party activists and hundreds of former fighters.

Now it is the turn of Mr Mahdi himself. The former prime minister argues that as Khartoum has tried to patch up its ties with its neighbours, there is now less scope for opposition activity abroad, coupled with a slightly greater margin of freedom at home.

He says he wants to work for political pluralism in Sudan.

But many in the Sudanese opposition believe his return is premature and is motivated largely by personal interests.

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See also:

27 Jun 00 | Africa
Sudan strongman forms rival party
06 May 00 | Africa
Analysis: Power struggle in Sudan
26 Nov 99 | Africa
Sudan peace deal struck
17 Jan 00 | Africa
Sudan's decades of war
19 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Sudan
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