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FILE PHOTO: People wait outside currency exchange bureau to receive money in Khartoum

IMF and World Bank say Sudan meets initial debt relief criteria

CAIRO (AP) — The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund announced that Sudan has met the initial criteria for over $50 billion in foreign debt relief, another step for the East African nation to rejoin the international community after nearly three decades of isolation.

The two international financial institutions said in a joint statement Tuesday that Sudan “has taken the necessary steps to begin receiving debt relief,” which amounts to over 90 percent of the nation’s total external debt. They said Sudan will benefit from the relief if it continues on its current path of reform for another three years.

“Debt relief will support Sudan in implementing essential reforms to improve the lives of its people by allowing the freeing up of resources to tackle poverty and improve social conditions,” the IMF said.

Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF’s managing director, hailed measures taken by Sudan’s transitional authorities in recent months that led to “this historic milestone under challenging conditions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sudan’s joint military-civilian government that has ruled the African country since a 2019 popular uprising has taken a series of bold steps to try to revive a battered and distorted economy, in which smuggling is rife. They include floating its currency, starting to address heavy government subsidies, particularly on fuel, and seeking investment from international donors.

But some measures also threaten to further impoverish some of the country’s poorest, and have faced opposition from pro-democracy activists who led the popular uprising against autocrat Omar al-Bashir who ruled Sudan for nearly 30 years.

Al-Bashir was overthrown by the military in April 2019 amid a public revolt against his Islamist-backed rule. The country has since been on a fragile path to democracy, with daunting economic challenges representing a major threat to that transition.

Georgieva of the IMF urged authorities to “sustain and expand” the implementation of reforms, adding that the IMF would continue to support the government to “secure a more prosperous future” for the country.

The announcement by the World Bank and the IMF also included $2 billion in grants dedicated to combat poverty and support a sustainable economic recovery over three years.

“Today marks an important milestone that will enable Sudan to significantly reduce its debt burden. This is a potentially transformative outcome for a nation of 44 million people that has suffered conflict, instability, and economic isolation for decades,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also hailed the decision as an “important milestone,” that came after “hard work, dedication and strong partnership with the international community.”

“This is a big day for Sudan and reaffirms that all the efforts and sacrifices of Sudanese people are recognized and rewarded,” he said.

Sudan’s transitional government has sought to reintegrate the country into the international community as it faces daunting political, security and economic challenges.

The country was an international pariah after it was placed on the United States’ list of state sponsors of terror in the 1990s. This largely excluded Sudan from the global economy.

Former President Donald Trump removed Sudan from the blacklist after the transitional government agreed to pay $335 million in compensation for victims of attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network while the terror leader was living in Sudan. The removal also was an incentive for Sudan to normalize ties with Israel.

The World Bank and IMF said that Sudan’s normalization will give it access to critical additional financial resources to strengthen its economy and improve social conditions.

Sudanese protesters, meanwhile, took to the streets of the capital of Khartoum and other cities across the country Wednesday. They called for justice for fellow protesters killed in the uprising against al-Bashir and the crackdown that followed his overthrow.

Authorities deployed security forces across the capital and closed off major roads ahead of the protests. Officials said in a statement that more than 50 police were injured.

An Associated Press video showed forces using tear gas to disperse protesters heading to the presidential palace in Khartoum. No casualties were reported.

Local media reported that police arrested some al-Bashir supporters in a hotel in Khartoum. The al-Tayar daily reported that some protesters were also arrested. It shared an 18-second video showing uniformed police on a truck with one beating a protester.

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