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ANALYSIS-Sudan’s Bashir vulnerable despite defiant front

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ANALYSIS-Sudan’s Bashir vulnerable despite defiant front

Wed Apr 1, 2009 7:39am EDT

By Andrew Heavens KHARTOUM, April 1 (Reuters)

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s defiant response to international efforts to arrest him for war crimes in Darfur hides vulnerabilities that could embolden his enemies. On Wednesday, Bashir travelled to Saudi Arabia in another challenge to the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court on March 4 over seven charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bashir’s visits — he has now made five trips abroad in just over a week, showing the court’s inability to arrest him — have won expressions of support from Arab countries and a measure of public admiration back home. “If there was an election now, he would win it. The people admire a strong man and he has also managed to show himself as a victim of the West,” said Faizal Silaik, deputy editor of daily newspaper Ajras al-Huriya. Bashir has also closed down 16 aid groups accused of helping the court and addressed a string of nationalistic rallies. “All the Sudanese people have rallied around their leadership against these allegations,” Bashir himself was quoted as saying on state news agency Suna. But his stance has done nothing to resolve major issues that could eventually loosen his hold on power. Those include the festering conflict in Darfur, oil-dependent Sudan’s sinking economy, fears over a fragile peace deal between north and south Sudan, and relations with the United States and United Nations that have worsened since the aid expulsions. “He (Bashir) gives the appearance of a strong position. But that is more apparent than real,” said one Western diplomat in Khartoum. “The regime remains fragile. People are looking for weakness. If they see him falter they will throw him overboard.” DARFUR THREAT The most immediate challenge could come from Darfur itself. The rebel Justice and Equality Movement attacked Khartoum last year and has promised to return, threatening to arrest Bashir themselves if nobody acts to hand him over to the court. The rebels say their resolve will be sharpened if Bashir manages to remain at large. “It will show the only hope we have is through our guns,” JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim told Reuters by satellite phone. Sudan’s economy is another area of weakness. During the boom years of soaring oil prices, Bashir’s government was easily able to pay supporters, civil servants, soldiers and militias. But the collapse in the global oil price has emptied government coffers. “When the government stops giving them enough for their day to day life, will they stand with him? Surely not,” the vice president of Sudan’s opposition Umma party Fadlalla Burma Nasir told Reuters. The Umma party opposes the arrest warrant. It is still unclear which, if any, of Sudan’s political forces could stand up to Bashir and his power base in the Sudanese army. Opposition parties have weakened and splintered in the almost 20 years since Bashir seized power in a bloodless coup. The south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) — in a coalition government with Bashir’s National Congress Party since a 2005 peace deal that ended two decades of north-south civil war — has so far stood by its political partner. But that could all change if Bashir shows signs of backing down on any parts of the fragile Comprehensive Peace Agreement, most importantly the highly-prized referendum on southern independence it promised in 2011. There are a host of other issues Bashir will have to face if he wants to keep the south stable and relatively on side — not least south Sudan’s own even deeper economic crisis, caused by the region’s near total dependency on oil revenues. INTERNAL CHALLENGE? Some Western diplomats and political analysts believe that a challenge from within Bashir’s own party is possible. Potential plotters could be spurred on by any sign of further sanctions from the U.N. Security Council, imposed over Sudan’s refusal to deal with the ICC or its aid expulsions. “He owns the aid problem now. If there is a cholera outbreak or a meningitis epidemic, it was the government that said it would take care of it,” said the Western diplomat. There is scope for the United Nations to expand sanctions against Sudan — its arms embargo currently only covers Darfur and it has the power to freeze the assets of Sudan’s political elite and restrict their travel. “That is the question — what are the Security Council’s next steps going to be, more sanctions?” said Hafiz Mohammed, Sudan programme coordinator for London-based campaign group Justice Africa. “Already some wise people are starting to come forward in Sudan saying this can not continue.” So far, there have been few signals from abroad to encourage internal plotters. U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to give details on how he will deal with Bashir’s regime. “Bashir is strong in the short term — maybe for the next six or seven months, maybe even a year. But in the long term we are all losers,” said one senior opposition figure. “If there is no change, if Bashir just goes on without settling the Darfur situation … then things are going to be very bad in Sudan.” (Additional reporting by Skye Wheeler in Juba; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

Written by torit1955

April 2, 2009 at 8:23 am