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Sudan's president urges armed groups, parties to talk

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a crowd in North Khartoum, June 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a crowd in North Khartoum, June 8, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's president called on armed groups and all political parties on Monday to meet and discuss ways of improving the country, but stopped short of promising a constitutional overhaul that was forecast by a senior member of his party.

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has had to wrestle with a sharp drop in oil revenues, the main source of government income, and rising inflation after losing the bulk of his active oilfields following the secession of South Sudan in 2012.

Subsidy cuts and other austerity measures brought in last September to cope with the crisis led to the capital's worst streets protests in years, adding to the turmoil in a country also fighting rebels in southern and western border regions.

Rabie Abdelati, a senior member of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party earlier said Bashir would use a live television address on Monday to call for opposition groups to help redraw the constitution and join the government.

Bashir did say political parties should join dialogue on the constitution, but did not go further.

"We call for a broad dialogue that includes all political parties and even holders of arms," he told an audience that included the leaders of the country's main opposition parties.

Sudanese media had printed a series of articles in the past week, counting down to the speech, reporting government officials had said it would include significant reforms.

The United States imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997 over alleged human rights violations and support for "international terrorism", then strengthened the penalties in 2006 over Khartoum's festering conflict with rebels in Darfur.

The country's isolation deepened when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Bashir on charges of orchestrating war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

The president, a former army officer, has ruled Sudan since coming to power in a bloodless 1989 coup backed by Islamists and the powerful army.

He has pledged to step down next year after presidential and parliamentary elections. No date has been set.

(Reporting By Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing By Maggie Fick; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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