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KHARTOUM: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir left on Tuesday for a two-day visit to Qatar, state media reported, in what is his first trip abroad since nationwide protests against his rule erupted last month.

Bashir was scheduled to meet top officials in Qatar, including its ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the official news agencies in both countries said. “Bilateral relations will be discussed during his visit,” the SUNA news agency in Sudan reported.

The veteran leader was also expected to discuss with Doha “ongoing peace efforts in Darfur”, it added, referring to the western region of Sudan that has been ravaged by a conflict between Sudanese forces and ethnic minority rebels.

Qatar and Sudan are long-term allies. The Gulf state has mediated between Khartoum and rebel groups involved in the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

Bashir’s regime has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and he has been charged by The Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The visit to Qatar is Bashir’s first overseas trip since anti-government protests erupted across Sudan on Dec 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.

On Tuesday, riot police fired tear gas at crowds in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman protesting against the fatal wounding of a demonstrator last week, witnesses said.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019