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Sudan crackdown on Islamic group seen as help to Nimeiry

Sudan's President Jaafar Nimeiry has launched a nationwide crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Up to now, the fundamentalist Islamic sect had been largely responsible for implementing some of the harsher aspects of President Nimeiry's version of ``Sharia,'' or Islamic law.

Two weeks ago, however, security forces swooped down on at least 120 front-ranking members of the politically influential Brotherhood that had been in unofficial coalition with Mr. Nimeiry since he began to Islamize the country 18 months ago.

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In a March 10 broadcast to the nation, Nimeiry accused unnamed religious groups of plotting to ``liquidate'' him and his aides and of ``seeking to undermine the revolution.'' His blanket accusation against the groups ranged widely, from inciting unrest among the non-Muslim south to hoarding basic commodities and establishing paramilitary units.

The only government organs not to have been purged are the army and the security apparatus, both vital to Nimeiry's survival.

Hassan al Turabi, the Brotherhood's leader and a close presidential confidante, was arrested at his home March 9 and flown to Shala prison in a remote western area of the country. That same morning Dr. Turabi had been given a letter by Nimeiry for delivery to Morocco's King Hassan the following day.

The swiftness with which the Muslim Brotherhood fell from favor is typical of Nimeiry's seemingly unpredictable style.

Observers here say that the move was calculated to undermine the Brotherhood's growing political influence and to use it as a scapegoat for the harsh measures that must be introduced if Sudan is to salvage its tottering economy.

The Sudanese leader's popularity has waned since he banned consumption of alcohol and instructed the judiciary to mete out Islamic punishments such as amputation of limbs for theft.

But the latest arrests are thought to presage a more moderate approach to Islam by the government. Among those detained were the more radical ``chopping'' judges responsible for amputations as well as leading members of the Sudanese Socialist Union, the sole political party.

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The emasculation of the Muslim Brotherhood has been met with quiet popular approval.

``Maybe the approach to Islamization will now be different, said a senior ministry official.

``The northern part of the country, especially the intellectual elite, is very Western oriented,'' the official added.

It is now widely anticipated that the Sudanese branch of the Faisal Islamic Bank, with its predominantly Brotherhood executive, will soon be radically reorganized.

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