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Sudanese Opposition Parties Meet to Plan Next Steps

Sudanese opposition parties held a joint meeting Friday to discuss next steps as they declare that the current government is now unconstitutional and demand the creation of an interim coalition government until national elections take place.

Former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, leader of the Sudanese opposition party Umma, told VOA news that all major opposition parties from north Sudan were at the meeting, which appointed a committee to develop a unified plan on how best to pressure the government to meet the groups' demands.

According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, signed in 2005 between north and south Sudan, elections were supposed to take place July 9. But that date has been pushed back to April 2010.

Al-Mahdi says that as of Friday, July 10, the current government is no longer legitimate until national elections are held.

"Now the CPA says very clearly that by the 9th of July, 2009, a new government should be in office after having held elections. Now we are past that date without the elections taking place. This is a constitutional vacuum," he said.

The opposition groups are demanding that an interim government representing all major parties be put in place while the country prepares for the national vote.

"Now there must be a kind of political settlement. We have been calling for the national government to be the government of consensus by all the political parties. This will cater for the constitutional vacuum," al-Mahdi said.

According to al-Mahdi, the elections will only be acceptable if there is no direct involvement from any of the government agencies currently controlled by the ruling northern party.

Al-Mahdi also says that settling disputes over the north-south border as well as settling disagreements over the nation's census results are also steps that must be taken for a smooth election to take place. The census results are crucial for determining different regions' voting power.

Last week, Umma sent ripples through Sudanese political realm by signing an accord with armed Darfur insurgent group JEM that, among other things, called for the formation of a transitional government leading up to the postponed elections.

Since then, other northern opposition parties have joined the chorus of dissent against the current government's hold on power.

Northern opposition groups are seeking to take advantage of the political crises facing the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir. Al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes in the Darfur conflict, and his government is challenged internally by a deteriorating relationship with the semi-autonomous government of south Sudan.

Sudan is currently ruled by a joint-government composed of the northern National Congress Party, or NCP, and the southern Sudan People Liberation Movement, or SPLM, as agreed to in the 2005 peace agreement.

A referendum for the south Sudan independence is set for January 2011. According to recent reports, south Sudan has been rebuilding its army and recently acquired 100 new battle tanks - a report the SPLM denies.