[Dehai-WN] (Reuters): INTERVIEW-Sudan risks unrest in inflation crisis - opposition

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2011 18:19:11 +0100

INTERVIEW-Sudan risks unrest in inflation crisis - opposition

Mon Dec 12, 2011 3:23pm GMT

* 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

By Ulf Laessing and Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM, Dec 12 (Reuters) - 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

"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)

C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved


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