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Sudan Islamist scholars moved to change

01 November 2013, 08:07

Khartoum - Sudanese Islamist scholars have formed a National Movement for Change that hopes to lead a search for alternatives to the country's "failed" political system, a member said on Thursday.

"We are calling on other people from different political or cultural [groups] or think tanks to join us to try to find a new way for Sudan," Khalid Tigani, one of about 10 members of the group, told AFP.

He said the movement is not a political party and that a convention will later decide what form it will take.

The Movement for Change is the latest sign of public frustration with the 24-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir, who seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Critics have become increasingly vocal since the government in September slashed fuel price subsidies, leading to the worst urban unrest of Bashir's rule.

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

Authorities reported 60 to 70 deaths, saying they had to intervene when crowds turned violent, attacking petrol stations and police.

Hundreds of people were detained, but the government says most have been released.

Analysts said the spontaneous demonstrations pointed to an urgent need for reform by a government grappling with wars, internal dissent, economic crisis and international isolation.

Tigani said the current government is part of the broken system but "not the whole story".

Two popular revolutions

"We are saying that the old Sudanese political system completely failed," since independence from Britain and Egypt on 1 January 1956, he said.

Since then the country has undergone two popular revolutions and at least seven coups or attempted coups, with interludes of parliamentary government.

Sudan's main opposition leaders have been on the political scene for decades and are widely discounted as alternatives in the current environment.

The country fell into economic crisis after South Sudan became independent two years ago following a peace deal that ended 22 years of civil war.

Khartoum lost billions of dollars in export earnings when the South split with most of Sudan's oil production.

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

Tigani said there is "deep polarisation" in the political sphere.

"We are trying to open a very wide, broad discussion about the whole political experiment of Sudan during the last 60 years," said Tigani, chief editor of the weekly economic newspaper Elaff.

He was an activist in the National Islamic Front party which engineered the 1989 coup.

Creation of the scholars' movement follows a separate announcement last Saturday that more than 30 prominent reformers within the ruling National Congress (NCP) would form a new political party.

Shooting of civilians

The NCP had sought to expel three leaders of the reformist faction after it issued a memorandum to Bashir saying the government's response to the fuel-price protests betrayed its Islamic foundations.

Former presidential adviser Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani was lead signatory to the memorandum.

It sought an independent probe of the shooting of civilians, and a reversal of the fuel price increases.

The reformers also called for "professionals" to take over economic policy, an end to press censorship, and respect for constitutional freedoms including peaceful assembly.

Bashir has said the protests were part of an effort to end his rule, using "agents, thieves and hijackers."

On Monday he told parliament that reform and change "is a daily process for us", and repeated a call for a broad dialogue with all political parties, even with armed rebels who are fighting in the Darfur region as well as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, crimes gainst humanity and genocide in the Darfur region.



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