Khartoum - Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday replaced his two vice-presidents and unveiled a new cabinet after urgent calls for reform in the 24-year-old regime.
The change comes less than a week after leading ruling party dissident Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani said he had launched a new “Reform” party relying on youth support that has attracted thousands of followers.
It is the most serious split in years within Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP), which has faced internal criticism over alleged corruption and stagnant leadership.
The “big changes” announced on Sunday “were meant to bring forward experienced youth”, NCP deputy chairman Nafie Ali Nafie said, according to the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) which is close to the security apparatus.
Nafie is stepping aside from his post as Bashir's assistant, to be replaced by senior NCP member Ibrahim Ghandour, officials said.
Other regime stalwarts who have lost their jobs are senior vice-president Ali Osman Taha and oil minister Awad Ahmad al-Jaz.
Bakri Hassan Saleh, a former interior and defence minister, replaces Taha while Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman becomes second vice-president, senior party official Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid told AFP.
“Yes, confirmed,” Ebaid said of the appointments.
Saleh was presidential affairs minister in the cabinet which Bashir dismissed last week ahead of the reshuffle.
Abdel Rahman had been the NCP's political secretary.
Saleh was a leader of the 1989 Islamist-backed coup which brought Bashir to power, Robert O. Collins wrote in A History Of Modern Sudan”.
He called Saleh “an efficient and sinister defender of the revolution” who was entrusted with rebuilding the country's intelligence apparatus.
The new Internal Security Bureau “demonstrated its autonomy through its extreme brutality”, Collins wrote.
After an NCP meeting which ended at dawn, the SMC reported that the new oil minister is Makawi Mohammed Awad.
Ebaid said cabinet ministers from parties other than the NCP are “not declared yet”.
Bashir had announced on Saturday that his long-time first vice president Taha, a key figure behind the coup, had resigned to pave the way for a new government.
“Ali Osman will voluntarily step down”, as he did in 2005 following the signing of a peace agreement that ended 22 years of civil war, Bashir was quoted by the official SUNA news agency as saying.
Taha “is the spearhead and the leader of change in the formation of a new cabinet”, Bashir said without elaborating.
The president hinted in mid-November that a wide-ranging government shakeup was imminent, after his party moved to expel a group of dissidents led by his ex-adviser Atabani.
Critics of Bashir's regime have become increasingly vocal since the government slashed fuel subsidies in September, leading to the worst urban unrest of his rule.
Security forces are believed to have killed more than 200 demonstrators, Amnesty International said, but the government has given a toll of fewer than half that.
Analysts said the spontaneous protests pointed to an urgent need for change by the Arab-dominated regime grappling with ethnic rebellions in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, dissension within its own ranks, economic crisis and international isolation.
Bashir has since talked of “reform”, and repeated a call for a dialogue with all political parties, including armed rebels.
Taha led the National Islamic Front party which backed the coup that installed Bashir.
He later became first vice-president but stepped aside for former rebel leader John Garang in July 2005, under the terms of the peace deal which eventually led to South Sudan's independence two years ago.
Taha later reassumed the top deputy's post and analysts said last year he was a possible successor to Bashir should he step down.
Bashir on Saturday said that “there are no differences or conflicts concerning the formation of the new government,” SUNA reported.