updated 5/17/2008 11:07:34 PM ET 2008-05-18T03:07:34

The leader of Sudan's main opposition party said Saturday that a recent attack on the capital by Darfur rebels may encourage other disgruntled Sudanese to rise up against the government.

Hassan Turabi, the country's leading Islamist ideologue and an ally-turned-adversary of President Omar al-Bashir, lambasted the government over its handling of the Darfur conflict, in which as many as 300,000 people have died since 2003. He also said the U.N. is not doing enough to protect Darfur.

Hundreds of fighters from the Justice and Equality Movement, which has emerged as the most effective Darfur rebel group, staged the bold attack on Khartoum's twin city, Omdurman. It was the first time in decades the rebels had approached the capital.

"There is so much misery in Darfur, genocidal measures actually," Turabi, 75, told reporters in an interview at his home in the capital, Khartoum. "They thought they have to remind this country right here in the center that there is a tragedy called Darfur."

Turabi was briefly arrested after the attack, but denied any connection to the rebels, even though their leader was a former protege of his.

The government has been trying to rally popular support since the attack, organizing public rallies and rounding up hundreds of people for arrest.

Turabi said the attack was "positive" although it was not a drastic turning point in the long-running Darfur conflict.

In 1989, al-Bashir, helped by Turabi, seized power in a coup. Turabi fell out with al-Bashir in 1999 and has since been in and out of prison on various charges, and under house arrest.

In the heyday of his relationship with al-Bashir's government, Turabi was the ideologue behind the regime. He strived to turn Khartoum into the global headquarters for political Islam, hosting several conferences for regional Islamist movements. He also provided a home for Osama bin Laden from 1990-1996 after he left Afghanistan.

The two-hour interview was intermittently interrupted by visitors including four Sudanese former prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who came to pay their respects.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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