Ex-rebel says Bashir must draw south Sudan lesson
KHARTOUM — President Omar al-Bashir must learn the lesson of south Sudan voting to secede or risk seeing other regions break away, the ex-southern rebel group's northern leader and former presidential candidate Yasser Arman warned in an interview.
Arman also said the students behind this week's anti-regime protests represent the "anger in society," and called on the Khartoum government to immediately release more than 100 detained protesters and cancel the price hikes on food and fuel if it wants to avoid a "Tunisian scenario."
"President Bashir and the (ruling) National Congress Party (NCP) have to learn a lesson from what they did in the south. The south walked away because of the disrespect and lack of recognition of the diversity," Arman, a secular Muslim from northern Sudan, told AFP.
Preliminary results from last month's vote on southern independence, due to be confirmed on Monday, showed nearly 99 percent of the mostly African Christian south backing separation from the predominantly Arab Muslim north.
Bashir has vowed to reinforce sharia, or Islamic law, in the north when the south, as expected, becomes independent in July.
"North Sudan is a diverse place... What Bashir is saying is not going to preserve stability in the north. It will lead to what happened in the south... to other parts of the north seceding, in Darfur, in eastern Sudan and elsewhere."
Arman, who was Beshir's main rival in elections last April, said the programme of his party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which included "recognition of Sudan's diversity, democratic transformation, and social justice," was the only vision that could keep the country together.
He was speaking after a week of localised but vocal anti-government protests in north Sudan organised by student activists via the Internet, and inspired by events in Tunisia and neighbouring Egypt.
All week riot police have clashed with protesters in Khartoum and other northern cities demanding regime change, civil liberties and an end to debilitating price rises and the conflict in Darfur.
In addition to the sweeping arrests, many protesters were severely injured in the demonstrations, which also prompted a crackdown on the media.
"Now there are more than 100 students in prison. Those students have to be released immediately, because otherwise this will lead Sudan to a Tunisian scenario," Arman said.
"The youth groups ... are behind what is going on, although that does not exclude wider discontent at the increase in prices or the continuing repression and harassment. They represent the anger in society."
Arman urged the United States not to start nomalising ties with Sudan, as it has promised to, after Khartoum accepts the results of the referendum, saying all outstanding post-referendum issues should be resolved first.
"The United States is a democratic country. They should also work and respect democracy in our country, and they should not reward dictatorship," he said.
The secretary general of the SPLM's northern wing said in December that his party would stay in the north after the south becomes independent, and that it would be a political force to be reckoned with.
Senior NCP officials have this week threatened to ban the SPLM from the north, post partition, after angrily blaming it for the southerners landslide decision to back secession and split Africa's biggest country in two, which would further emasculate Sudan's beleaguered opposition.
But Arman was defiant, warning that any attempts by the NCP to ban his party would be unconstitutional and would destabilise the country.
"This will bring more instability to the north, because the SPLM ex-combatants and active soldiers in the north... are more than 50,000. They are bigger than the Darfurian (rebel) movements put together," he said.
Despite the presence of numerous opposition parties in Khartoum, including the Umma Party, which ruled from 1986-1989, and the Popular Congress Party of Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, jailed last month after calling for a popular uprising, Arman said Sudan had been under a one-party system for more than 20 years.
"That has weakened the political life and constitutional life of this country... There is a need for new policies that will usher Sudan into an era of democracy and an era of national dialogue.
"There are 77 ministers in this government. What do 77 ministers do in a third world country, a poor country like Sudan?"