KHARTOUM, Sudan Sudan's president will meet a British delegation to discuss a possible pardon for a teacher imprisoned in Sudan for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad, a presidential spokesman said Sunday.
Two Muslim members of British parliament, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Nazir Ahmed, have been in Sudan for two days trying to set up a meeting with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. He is the only one who can pardon Gillian Gibbons, the 54-year-old British teacher who has been imprisoned since Thursday.
"The (Sudanese) president will meet the British delegation at 10:30 (Monday morning) at the presidential palace," Mahzoub Faidul told The Associated Press. "He will discuss the case and a possible pardon."
Al-Bashir's decision to sit down with the two politicians could be a breakthrough in the case.
Gibbons was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation for insulting Islam because she allowed her students to give a teddy bear the same name as Islam's revered prophet a violation under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law.
Concern for the teacher's safety grew Friday after thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of her and demanded her execution at a rally in Khartoum.
Gibbons was moved from the Omdurman women's prison to a secret location on Friday after the demonstrations.
The British Embassy said they had not been officially notified about the meeting with al-Bashir. But spokesman Omar Daair said it would be "a positive development."
Earlier Sunday, Warsi said she and Ahmed had "some very, very difficult meetings" with Sudanese officials but indicated the two politicians had canceled their return tickets to Britain early Monday in hopes of a breakthrough.
Ahmed said "progress has been made" in their meetings.
"There is only one item on the agenda and that is Gillian and hopefully obtaining her pardon," said Ahmed.
He expressed hope that the cultural background of the two politicians would help bridge the gap between Britain and Sudan.
"That is very important, we are British and we are Muslim," said Ahmed. "We understand the sensitivity and culture of this part of the world and also our own culture and norms and customs."
The British Embassy said earlier that it was talking directly to the Sudanese government at the same time that the parliamentarians were working for Gibbons' release.
"We are working closely with Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi because we think their initiative has the best chance of success," Daair, the embassy spokesman, said earlier, adding that the British government was pressing for a meeting with al-Bashir.
Gibbons' chief lawyer, Kamal al-Gizouli, was optimistic on the chances of the British delegation to secure the teacher's release, in part because the whole affair has become an international embarrassment to the government.
"They want to get rid of the problem and the visit of the British lords would be a good opportunity," he said. "This case is a headache for the government. I would not be surprised if Gibbons was released today or tomorrow."
Gibbons escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine. Her time in jail since her arrest Sunday counts toward the sentence.
During her trial, the weeping teacher said she had intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear, and Muhammad is one of the most common names for men in the Arab world. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic rules against insulting the prophet.
But the case was caught up in the ideology that al-Bashir's Islamic regime has long instilled in Sudan, a mix of anti-colonialism, religious fundamentalism and a sense that the West is besieging Islam.The uproar comes as the U.N. is accusing Sudan of dragging its feet on the deployment of peacekeepers in the western Sudanese Darfur region.
Associated Press Writers Mohamed Osman contributed to this report from Khartoum and Jill Lawless from London.