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Analyst Says Rice Trip Highlights Sudan's Aversion to Democratic Norms

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a stern message to the Sudanese government today, saying she wants "action, not words" on the crisis in western Darfur. Ms. Rice says she told Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir during talks in Khartoum to stop the violence -- especially against women and girls in Darfur, who have been raped throughout the two-year war.

She said the Sudanese government has a "credibility problem" on the conflict -- which the United States has called genocide. Secretary Rice spoke to some of the victims of the Darfur conflict when she toured Abu Shouk camp -- home to tens of thousands of displaced people in the region.

As she flew into Darfur, Sudan's foreign minister phoned Ms. Rice to apologize after members of her staff and journalists were harassed by security personnel earlier in the day in Khartoum.

According to the Washington Post newspaper, Sudanese officials shoved US journalists away from the meeting, grabbed a tape from a reporter and slammed the wooden doors to president Bashir’s palace in their faces. Another journalist – who tried to ask a question about the killing of innocent civilians in Sudan -- was physically pulled away and told there were no questions allowed. The Washington Post says the reporters told the officials that the entourage accompanying the Secretary of State included a contingent of the "free press." However, an aide to the Sudanese president reportedly replied "it's not a free press here."

The paper says that the Secretary of State rejoined the press in her plane after the incidents. She reportedly told them, “They have no right to man-handle my staff or the press” – and demanded an apology.

Iqbal Jhazbhay is a senior lecturer on the Horn of Africa at the University of South Africa in Pretoria and a member of board of directors of the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg. He told Voice of America reporter William Eagle that the incident indicates that despite a recent peace agreement in Khartoum that is to lead to a more inclusive and democratically-inclined government, authoritarian practices still linger. He said there was a similar reminder a few weeks ago: one afternoon, he said Sudanese state television showed the inauguration of a new government that included officials of the former rebel SPLM. Later, that evening, however, the media celebrated an attack against suspected southern rebels with Islamic hymns.

Mr. Jhazbhay says US pressure has had a positive effect on the situation in Sudan – such as the end of air attacks in Darfur, and the sending of African Union troops to the region. The analyst also welcomes the Secretary of State’s visit to Israel this week in an effort to reduce tensions with the Palestinians. He says the conflict there and other tensions in the in the Middle East tend to influence politics in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, he says increases in the price of oil affect the cost of development projects in developing countries.