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18 Sudanese Opposition Parties to Skip Talks With President

FILE - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

FILE - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir

Nearly all of the 21 Sudanese opposition parties participating in a yearlong national dialogue will pull out of that process, as well as upcoming elections, party representatives said Tuesday night in the latest sign of deteriorating reconciliation efforts.

President Omar al-Bashir called for a national dialogue bringing together all political actors last January, though little progress has been made, and separate negotiations with rebels have faltered.

Eighteen opposition parties will not attend a national dialogue meeting with the president this week, citing worsening political and press freedoms, a statement from the parties said.

"We have decided to suspend participation in the national dialogue due to the president's decisions to not release political detainees, allow room for political action or stop the confiscation of newspapers,'' said Hassan Osman Rizk, a former minister under Bashir and the current vice president of the Reform Now party.

One opposition party after another has opted to boycott a political process that they say is dominated by Bashir and his circle, who have been in power for 25 years.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The most prominent of the three parties still participating in the dialogue is the Popular Congress Party (PCP), headed by former Bashir ally and veteran Islamist Hassan al-Turabi.

"The parties that decided to pull out rushed into this decision," said PCP political secretary Kamal Omar. "We will continue for lack of an alternative.''

The PCP is still boycotting the April presidential and parliamentary elections, along with all other major opposition parties. The regime has said that elections will continue as planned.

The unraveling political rapprochement in Khartoum takes place against a backdrop of increasing violence in the country's periphery.

The U.N. has warned of a deteriorating situation in Darfur, as the government has pushed for U.N.-African Union peacekeepers to exit the war-torn western region.

Negotiators failed last month to reach a cease-fire in a related but separate insurgency in the southern provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan mounted mostly by former civil war fighters who were left in Sudan after South Sudan seceded in 2011.

The government has rebuffed opposition and rebel demands to link political negotiations with peace talks.