Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti accused his country’s opposition of exploiting the discontinuation of subsidies on fuel and wheat and pushing the Sudanese people to demonstrate. He said that the aim of the government’s action was to support the poor. He described Khartoum’s relationship with South Sudan as "excellent," despite the tension and clear differences between the two sides. He criticized the United States for refusing to grant Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir a visa to attend the UN General Assembly sessions and accused the United States of "failing to comply with its obligations as a UN host."
Karti spoke with As-Safir on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. He said, "There are economic measures that the Sudanese government was forced to take in order to liberalize its economy and reform its path," and "The state cannot buy a barrel of oil at $105 or $110, as it is priced in the global markets, and sell it in the local market for $50."
He continued, "Of course, there are difficulties facing the weak segments [of society] and the government has taken measures to compensate them, but those who are able to pay for the fuel and wheat that they use should do so. … The state thinks that these goods are not the goods from which everybody benefits." He explained that his country was importing wheat from abroad at high prices and selling it at low prices, "but no one is subsidizing the production of wheat, upon which millions of people rely, in Sudan."
He considered it "natural for there to be protests. But it is not normal for there to be destruction and arson. What good is it to burn an institution or a gas station? The protests must remain confined to expressing opinion, which will allow the state to consider the protesters’ demands."
On the use of force against the demonstrators, he said that in the first hour of the demonstrations "more than 10 gas stations were burned, and the police were not even present." Accusing the state of using force, he said, was intended "to fan the flames."
"I think that it is essential that the people understand the economic measures and show patience," he noted, pointing out that there was an agreement between the government and the trade unions to provide support for some segments of society, i.e., those who do not get support from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Social Welfare. He said, "It was agreed that there will be salary increases … whose aim is to help the citizens deal with the price increases. The subsidies will go to the poor societal segments. The rest of the people, who are not part of these segments, will not be supported because their economic situation allows them to purchase these goods from the free market."
Karti added, "There is no patience. As soon as the measures were announced, no one showed patience to see what kind of subsidies would be made. There are sides that are pushing the people to show no understanding toward this matter and are telling the people that there will be no subsidies. The opposition is exploiting the situation. But in my estimation, things will become clearer with time and the people will realize that the government is serious about providing support."
In a separate context, the foreign minister described the relationship with South Sudan as "excellent." He explained: "A great development happened after the visit of the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir to Sudan [Sept. 3] and agreed to resolve many of the outstanding issues. The most important manifestations were the continuation to pump oil and a commitment to not support rebel groups that are still present in southern Sudan. … There are remaining issues, such as demarcating the border and establishing a demilitarized buffer zone, and there are procedures for these matters by the African Union. We are working day and night."
Regarding the issue of Bashir not receiving a US visa, Karti said, "The US has failed to play its role and fulfill its obligations as host to the headquarters of the UN. … The Headquarters Agreement provides that the United States must grant the necessary visas, on time, for the heads of states to participate in the UN General Assembly."
He added, "We applied for a visa and they asked us more than once to pull our passports. We told them that the application is in front of you. You should either accept them or refuse them. We are not looking to find a solution for you. … They wanted the solution to come from our side in order to declare that the government of Sudan has decided to withdraw the president’s passport. Of course, I refused this matter in more than one telephone conversation with the deputy US secretary of state. African presidents have also been asked to mediate with the Sudanese president to persuade him to withdraw his application. But he refused. A former president was also asked to contact President Bashir, because of their friendship, to ask him to withdraw his visa application. We told all of them that the United States has obligations, which it should either fulfill or fail to fulfill. Why are they looking for a face-saving device?"
He continued, "They did not approve the visa applications. I issued a statement, here in the United States, at the moment when the president was supposed to give his speech. We chose that moment to distribute a statement to all the participants in the General Assembly, its president [John William Ashe], and to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. I talked about that in my statement before the General Assembly. I said that the president was supposed to give that statement but that the host country has failed to carry out its duties and prevented him from reaching the UN. We asked the states to take a position. We will continue our efforts with regional and international organizations to raise attention regarding that issue."
About his meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Karti said that he held "two important meetings. The first was a meeting by the African Peace and Security Council at the presidential level. They approved the agreement between the two presidents [of Sudan and South Sudan], praised the two presidents, and lauded the positive developments that took place."
He added that the second meeting was "a consultative meeting on Sudan called for by the UN secretary-general. That meeting grouped all the parties concerned about the Sudan and Southern Sudan issue. We came out with a recommendation praising the presidents and the progress made. We demanded that the work to resolve the remaining issues continue."
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