26 November 2012

Sudan's Bashir to Skip Conference Address Amid Questions About His Health

Khartoum — The Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir has apparently cancelled his appearance at a conference taking place in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday morning after state media initially reported that he will address the event, amid renewed rumors about the health of the 68-year old ruler.

Sudan's official news agency (SUNA) carried a report on Monday morning saying that Bashir would appear to address the opening session of the 12th conference of the Arab ministers of minerals due to be held at the Friendship Hall in the capital Khartoum from the 27th through the 29th of November.

Later in the day SUNA quietly withdrew the report from their website and published another one saying that the conference will be addressed instead by presidential assistant Gala Al-Digair "as representative of the president of the republic".

An Arab official attending the conference told Sudan Tribune that he does know at this point whether Bashir will be present.

Another instance of inconsistency on Al-Bashir also emerged on Monday when SUNA reported that Bashir conducted a phone call today with his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir and discussed issues concerning the implementation of the set of cooperation agreements the two countries signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last September.

But South Sudan information minister Barnaba Marial told Sudan Radio Service (SRS) in an interview today that the last call between the two men took place last Friday.

The state news agency released another report saying that Bashir phoned Saudi Arabia's crown prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz to receive assurances about the health of the King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz after he underwent a "successful" operation this month.

This was corroborated by Saudi news agency (SPA) which reported the conversation taking place today.

The inconsistency that characterized SUNA's reporting about Bashir's activities coincided with unconfirmed news reports that he was medivaced on Sunday to Saudi Arabia and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the capital Riyadh.

SRS and Al-Rakoba, a pro-opposition website, both quoted anonymous sources as confirming that Bashir has been admitted to the Saudi hospital.

"Yes he was brought last night around 7 PM at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. First, he was admitted at the royal wing (DR) then he was taken today around midday to the ICU. However, they are saying that his condition is stable," the source told SRS.

SRS added that its efforts to reach government officials to comment were unsuccessful as they did not pick up calls.

Rumors about the Bashir's health have been on the rise since the government only recently admitted that he underwent a "minor" surgery on his vocal chords in Qatar last August. The rumors have been fueled further by the fact that since the time of his first operation, he has made few appearances and considerably curtailed his public speeches.

Earlier this month, the Sudanese leader travelled to Saudi Arabia where he underwent another "minor and successful operation" to remove a lipoma in his throat, according to state media which also said he has recovered.

However, Bashir's brother Abdullahi Al-Bashir, a physician, later admitted that his younger sibling was suffering from a tumor in his throat but insisted that medical tests proved that the swelling is benign.

This month he was reportedly more than an an hour late to the opening ceremony Islamic Movement (IM) convention attended by Islamist figures from all over the world.

His health situation also appears to have contributed to the unleashing of a power struggle within his ruling National Congress Party (NCP), whose long-simmering internal divisions surfaced on Thursday when the authorities said they arrested a number of military individuals associated with the regime, including ex-spy chief Salah Gosh, on charges of planning a coup.

Bashir has been ruling Sudan since taking power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989. In 2009 he became the first sitting head of state to be issued with an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Darfur conflict, which according to the UN, led to the death of 300,000 people and displacement of 2.7 million in 2003-2004.

The ICC ruling has restricted Al-Bashir to traveling to non-signatories to the Rome Statute, which mostly includes Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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