KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir made a rare public appeal Friday to opposition parties to join a broad based-government just days ahead of a vote which will likely see the south move toward independence.
A January 9 referendum on secession for the oil-producing south has preoccupied Khartoum as the expected split would weaken his government. There would be a loss of goodwill among the north’s majority pro-unity population as well as a weakening of its financial base with the loss of key oil revenues.
Bashir is the only sitting head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court accused of war crimes and genocide in the war-torn western Darfur region. This has curtailed his international travel and left him largely politically isolated.
The approach to opposition groups may be a sign Bashir feels increasingly pressured, although critics suggest it may be no more than window dressing, since similar moves for rapprochement have previously come to nothing.
State news agency SUNA quoted Bashir as calling for a “broad-based government to unite the internal front.”
“I sincerely call on all the national powers and leaders of political parties to unite their hearts and minds behind one aim -- strengthening the foundations of our nation and its independence far from foreign intervention,” SUNA quoted Bashir as saying in his annual address for Sudan’s independence day.
“We totally reject this -- the only solution now is for Bashir to resign, hold new elections and a forum to agree a new constitution,” Kamal Omer, a senior official from the opposition Popular Congress Party.
Sudan’s opposition is still smarting from April elections which handed Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party a major victory and a parliamentary majority which will allow them to change the constitution post secession.
Much of the opposition boycotted the polls and those participating cited blatant fraud. Observers said the polls fell short of international standards.
Earlier this year Bashir made a half-hearted attempt to woo the opposition and requested a meeting. But he refused to agree on an agenda, and the political parties rejected the move.
The opposition say the NCP alone should fully bear the dubious historical accolade of being the government to preside over the break up of Africa’s largest country.
If the south secedes as expected, the departure of the south and its ruling party from parliament and government in 2011 will leave a quarter of the parliament and cabinet posts open and available to the northern opposition should they wish to join.
However the positions of the NCP and opposition are miles apart on what they believe a national government should entail and with an expected secession of the south so near and Sudan entering into an economic crisis, most parties are reluctant to join what they view as a sinking ship.
Sudan this week ended Darfur peace negotiations in Qatar withdrawing its delegation after the mediation failed to deliver any meaningful progress. Clashes with all rebel groups -- even the only one to have signed a peace accord with Khartoum -- have reignited forcing thousands more to flee their homes. Bashir said he was still committed to peace in Darfur but that any talks must continue within Sudan.
Reporting by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Matthew Jones
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