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Sudan risks unrest in inflation crisis -opposition

Former PM says crisis worse than mid-80s; Sees risk of violence if mass protests break out; Risk of 'proxy war' between north and south

December 13, 2011 11:36 by

Sudan is undergoing an economic crisis with “catastrophic” inflation that threatens to trigger protests against veteran President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and could even prompt Syrian-style unrest, a former prime minister said on Monday.

Sadeq al-Mahdi, head of the Umma Party, the country’s largest opposition party, said the situation was worse than in 1985, when protests against food prices toppled President Jaafar Nimeiri.

The African country has avoided an “Arab Spring” revolution but Khartoum and the underdeveloped east have seen small anti-government demonstrations, inspired by mass protests across the Middle East, that have mainly focused on inflation.

Mahdi said Sudan might see violence or even civil war as in Syria or Yemen if the protests took on a mass character.

“The regime is well prepared for this eventuality. We may face something like the Syrian scenario rather than an Egyptian or Tunisian,” Mahdi told Reuters in an interview. “If there are mass demonstrations it seems to me they will use force.”

Mass protests toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt at the start of the year, but Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has clung to power by attempting to crush a nine-month popular uprising.

Bashir has been battling an economic crisis since South Sudan took away much of the country’s oil — the lifeline of both economies — when it became independent in July. Inflation hit an annual 19.1 percent in November as imports have become more expensive due to the loss of oil revenues.

“The inflation is catastrophic,” said Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected prime minister, who was toppled by Bashir in a bloodless coup in 1989. He became premier in 1986 after mass protests, mainly against food inflation, had ousted President Nimeiri a year earlier.

“It’s worse now,” Mahdi said when asked to compare the economic crises now and then. “Here you have a shock of losing the great deal of revenues from oil they got used to.

“There is no quick fix. The regime has no way out of this quagmire,” he said, adding that the government would have to start draconian measures such as cutting the budget by 50 percent to make up for the loss of oil.

The economic crisis is worsened by fighting with insurgents in the Western region of Darfur and two states bordering Khartoum’s former civil war foe South Sudan, draining resources at a time when Sudan needs to cut expenditures.

“There is the danger of a multiple front. There is the danger of proxy war between north and south. The south supports dissidents in the north, the north supports dissidents in the south,” said Mahdi.

“The east might flare up,” he said, referring to the protests there.

Sudanese officials says the country is different from Syria, Egypt or other Arab countries witnessing mass protests, and is capable of overcoming the loss of oil by expanding mineral exports and the agricultural sector.

Last week, Bashir presented a new coalition cabinet that includes 14 mostly smaller opposition parties, though his National Congress Party (NCP) kept key ministries.

“We waited long with the announcement of the government to have time to consult,” Bashir said on Saturday. “The current government represents most political forces.”

Bashir also appointed Mahdi’s son Abdel Rahman al-Sadeq al-Mahdi as presidential assistant.

Mahdi said the Umma party had decided against joining the cabinet after talking to the NCP because no policy change was in sight. “We decided not to participate in something that is doomed,” he said.

The opposition now wants to develop a charter on how to overcome the crisis, and to convince Bashir with the help of the international community to resign to avoid bloodshed in the event of mass protests.

“We use the charter to mobilise for a new regime, a change that is soft-landing, no crash-landing,” Mahdi said. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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