Ruling party reformer says Sudan on verge of collapse

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Sudan is on the verge of collapse, a leading reformer in the ruling party said on Monday after his party membership was suspended following criticism of a deadly protest crackdown.

Despite the disciplinary action against him, former presidential adviser Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani told AFP the reformers would not back down.

Atabani was the lead signatory on a letter by 31 prominent National Congress Party (NCP) reformers to President Omar al-Bashir.

They said the government’s response to the late-September demonstrations over fuel price hikes betrayed the regime’s Islamic foundations.

The reformers made a series of recommendations, including for an independent probe of the shooting of civilians during the protests, but they instead found themselves under investigation by a party committee.

Asked by AFP whether his party membership had been suspended, Atabani said: “I did receive a letter this morning from the committee to that effect.”

But he said the committee’s decisions are “null and void” because it was not formally established by the NCP.

“It is more significant though to note the huge importance the NCP leadership is attaching to this minor internal issue at a time when the country is on the verge of collapse,” Atabani said.

Thousands of people, many of them Khartoum-area poor, took to the streets after September 23 when the government cut fuel subsidies, forcing retail prices up by more than 60 percent.

The protests and their Arab Spring-inspired calls for the downfall of the regime were the worst urban unrest of Bashir’s 24-year rule.

Amnesty International said security forces are believed to have killed more than 200 protesters, many of whom were shot in the head or chest.

Authorities report 60-70 deaths, and say they had to intervene when crowds turned violent, attacking petrol stations and police.

Bashir said slashing the subsidies aimed to prevent the “collapse” of an economy beset by inflation and an unstable currency since the separation of South Sudan.

Khartoum lost billions of dollars in export earnings when the South became independent in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan’s oil production.

Sudanese have endured two years of rising prices, a sinking currency and an unemployment rate estimated to exceed 30 percent.

The country ranks near the bottom of international indexes of corruption, human development and press freedom.

Atabani, a member of parliament, said the reformers “will pay little attention to the committee, and instead produce more political initiatives addressing the current political situation.”

In their memorandum to Bashir, the reformers said the government’s economic measures were not presented to parliament and citizens had no chance to give input peacefully.

They called for a reversal of the price hikes and for “professionals” to take over economic policy assisted by members of other political parties.

The reformers also sought compensation for those wounded and killed in the protests, an end to press censorship, and respect for constitutional freedoms including peaceful assembly.

Another reformer, Osama Taufiq, told AFP he had also received a letter “that said my activity in NCP has been frozen.”

He said the NCP’s investigative committee is “not neutral”.

Party officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Taufiq is a leader of Al-Saihun (“Tourists for the sake of God”), an elite group of volunteer mujahedeen fighters from the 1983-2005 civil war with now-independent South Sudan.

Analysts said Al-Saihun was close to a group of military men detained late last year for an alleged coup plot against the Khartoum government.

Retired armed forces Brigadier Mohammed Ibrahim, who was among the 31 who signed the reformers’ memorandum, was sentenced to five years in prison in April for allegedly leading the plot.

Bashir later granted amnesty to him and others involved.

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