Qatari emir hosts Bashir

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The ruler of Qatar offered support for Sudan’s “unity and stability” at a meeting with President Omar al-Bashir on his first foreign visit in more than a month of protests against him.

The tiny but wealthy Gulf state vies with regional rivals for influence in Sudan, strategic in part for its access to the Red Sea and last year agreed a $4 billion deal to jointly develop Suakin port.

No new financial assistance was announced on Wednesday.

Bashir arrived in Qatar on Tuesday as protests raged at home. Anger at inflation and shortages coalesced into calls for an end to his 30-year rule.

“President Bashir briefed the Emir on updates regarding the situation and challenges facing the country,” said a statement from the court of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“The Emir affirmed Qatar’s firm stance on Sudan’s unity and stability and they discussed latest developments in the Darfur peace process.”

Bashir blames the unrest on foreign “agents” and rebels from the western region of Darfur.

The official unrest death toll stands at 26, including two security personnel.

Rights groups say at least 40 died.

GULF ASSISTANCE

Sudan has looked to maintain good relations with parties on both sides of a Gulf region dispute. A Saudi Arabian-led bloc launched a boycott of Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism, a charge Doha denies.

Bashir contributed troops to a Saudi-led coalition’s war efforts in Yemen, but struck deals and kept close ties with Saudi bloc rivals Qatar and Turkey.

Analysts and diplomats saw Bashir’s trip as an opportunity to tap Qatar for assistance in shoring up the country’s meagre finances, drained since the south seceded with the lion’s share of oil output in 2011.

Qatar has long played a mediating role in Sudan’s Darfur conflict and was among the first countries to express support after protests broke out on December 19, with Sheikh Tamim calling Bashir to offer “all that was necessary”, according to Sudan.

“For Omar al-Bashir to make his first visit since the protests started to Qatar and not to other traditional allies is big,” said Ibrahim Fraihat, a professor of international conflict resolution at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

“He obviously needs help and other allies haven’t been able to provide it,” said Fraihat.

Sudan said on Wednesday it received unspecified assistance from the United Arab Emirates, plus offers of fuel and wheat from Russia and Turkey. The scale and timing of the aid is unclear.