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Leading Sudan critic calls for rebel amnesty


Sudanese armed rebels must be given amnesty and political prisoners should be freed, a leading dissident expelled by Sudan's ruling party says.

Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, a former adviser to President Omar al-Bashir, made the demand late Tuesday after Bashir appealed for a political and economic "renaissance" in a country ravaged by government-rebel clashes, poverty and political turmoil.

"The wars have to stop, and the armed groups must be given amnesty," Atabani told reporters.

"All the political detainees, political prisoners, have to be freed."

Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) billed his Monday speech as a major event, after urgent calls for reform in his 25-year-old regime.

But Atabani said it "did not present solutions or any initiative."

Bashir repeated invitations he has issued over the past year for a broad political dialogue, including with the country's ethnic insurgents fighting in Darfur, the Kordofan region and Blue Nile state.

The uprisings have been fuelled by complaints of economic and political neglect by the Arab-dominated regime.

Bashir did not unveil detailed initiatives but said the renaissance must address four areas: peace, political freedom, poverty reduction and national identity.

Critics of the regime have become increasingly vocal since the government slashed fuel subsidies in September, sparking a jump in prices and the worst urban unrest of Bashir's rule. Dozens of people were killed.

The NCP moved to expel Atabani and two other dissidents who signed a memorandum which said the government's response to the protests betrayed its Islamic foundations.

Atabani then set up a new "Reform" party in December, marking the most serious defection in years from the NCP.

Atabani was among the audience for Bashir's speech, and said that he will join the government's dialogue by offering suggestions on reform of the economy and other areas.

"When I went to listen to the speech I did not expect anything to happen suddenly," said Atabani, who sat beside the NCP's most prominent breakaway figure, Hassan Al-Turabi, during the presidential address.

Turabi was a leading figure behind the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power but he split in 2000 and formed the opposition Popular Congress.

The veteran Islamist Turabi said earlier that Bashir's speech "did not meet our expectations" and lacked detail about political and media freedom.

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