Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Jay DESHMUKH
President Omar al-Bashir fired Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, state media reported, after he said that Sudanese diplomats abroad had been unpaid for months

President Omar al-Bashir on Thursday fired Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, state media reported, after he said that Sudanese diplomats abroad had been unpaid for months.

In a speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, Ghandour, who negotiated the lifting of decades-old sanctions with Washington in October 2017, said his ministry had also been unable to pay rents for several Sudanese diplomatic missions due to a government cash shortfall.

"President Omar al-Bashir issued this evening a decree sacking Professor Ibrahim Ghandour from his post of minister of foreign affairs," the official SUNA news agency reported quoting the decree.

Sudan has been facing financial difficulties amid an acute shortage of hard foreign currency that has seen the east African country's economic crisis worsen.

"For months Sudanese diplomats have not received salaries and there is also a delay in paying rent for diplomatic missions," Ghandour told lawmakers, without specifying which ones.

Ghandour, the first official to portray a grim picture of the country's economic woes publicly, said he himself had been in touch with the governor of the central bank but has failed to secure funds to pay the diplomats.

"The situation has now turned dangerous, which is why I am talking about it publicly," he said.

Ghandour said there was a feeling among some government officials that paying wages to diplomats and rent for diplomatic missions were not a priority.

"Some ambassadors and diplomats want to return to Khartoum now... because of the difficulties faced by them and their families," he said.

Ghandour, 65, told reporters on Wednesday that his ministry's annual budget was about $69 million, while the wages of diplomats and rents of missions amounted to $30 million.

Previously a professor at University of Khartoum, Ghandour became a top aide to Bashir in December 2013 and in June 2015 was appointed as foreign minister -- a post he held until Thursday.

- Top negotiator -

Ghandour had been Sudan's top negotiator with Washington during talks that led to the lifting of the US trade embargo imposed in 1997 for Khartoum's alleged support of Islamist militant groups.

US officials have often acknowledged his efforts in helping to negotiate the removal of sanctions, which over the years saw the country's already dilapidated economy deteriorate further.

Sudan has been hit hard by an acute shortage of foreign currency that has seen the pound plunging against the dollar, forcing the central bank to devalue it twice since January.

Expectations of a quick economic revival had been high after Washington lifted the trade embargo.

But officials say the situation has not changed at all as international banks continue to be wary of doing business with Sudanese banks.

Although Washington lifted the sanctions, it kept Khartoum on its list of "state sponsors of terrorism", which makes it difficult for Sudan to access international loans and aid, officials say.

In recent months, Ghandour had been pushing to have Khartoum removed from Washington's blacklist.

Sudan's overall economy was hit particularly hard after the south separated from the north in 2011, taking with it about 75 percent of oil earnings.

A surging inflation rate of about 56 percent, regular fuel shortages and rising prices of food items have often triggered sporadic anti-government protests in Khartoum and some other towns.

Protests erupted in January too after prices of food items, mainly bread, more than doubled.

The anti-government rallies were quickly curbed by security forces amid a crackdown that saw several top opposition leaders and hundreds of protesters arrested.

Most of the detainees have now been freed after Bashir ordered their release.