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Sudan mourns former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi

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Hussein Malla/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Omar al-Bashir

Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan's last democratically elected prime minister and leader of the country's largest political party, has died of COVID-19 in a hospital in the United Arab Emirates, his party said. He was 84.

Al-Mahdi was taken to Abu Dhabi for treatment in early November and died on Thursday. His body was expected to arrive in Sudan for burial Friday morning, the National Ummah Party tweeted.

Al-Mahdi was overthrown in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup that brought longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir to power. Nearly three decades later, Al-Mahdi's party allied with a pro-democracy uprising in Sudan that led the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April 2019.

Sudan has since been ruled by a transitional military-civilian government. Elections could possibly be held in late 2022.

Al-Mahdi was one of the staunchest opponents of Sudan's recent normalization of ties with Israel, which he dismissed as ``an apartheid state'' because of its ill-treatment of the Palestinians. He also accused U.S. President Donald Trump of being racist against Muslims and Black people.

Sudan's government declared three days of national mourning starting Thursday. Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the country's ruling sovereign council, tweeted that the Sudanese people ``lost a part of their history.''

The Sudanese Professionals' Association, which spearheaded last year's uprising against al-Bashir, mourned al-Mahdi as ``an inspiring leader.''

Al-Mahdi was born in December 1935 in Khartoum's sister city of Omdurman. He was the grandson of Mohammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, a religious leader whose movement waged a successful war against Egyptian-Ottoman rule in Sudan in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Al-Mahdi served as prime minister in 1966-67 before a group of military officers led by Jaafar al-Nimeiri took power.

The veteran politician was jailed several times and forced into self-exile for years. He served as prime minister for a second time from 1986-89.