KHARTOUM: Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday replaced his two vice presidents and unveiled a partially new cabinet after urgent calls for reform in the 24-year-old regime.
The changes come 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 supporters.
It was 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 reshuffle saw the "really remarkable" departure of veteran Islamists Ali Osman Taha and Nafie Ali Nafie, leaving Bashir "the sole master", said Magdi El Gizouli, a fellow at the Rift Valley Institute.
"It's probably the most significant reshuffle they've ever had" since 2000 when Hassan al-Turabi, a leading Islamist behind the coup, broke away and formed the opposition Popular Congress, Gizouli said.
The "big changes" announced Sunday "were meant to bring forward experienced youth", said Nafie, the NCP deputy chairman. He was quoted by the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) which is close to the security apparatus.
Nafie is stepping down from his post as Bashir's adviser and assistant, to be replaced by senior NCP member Ibrahim Ghandour, officials said.
Top vice president Taha is also leaving after decades in the regime's inner circle.
He originally led the National Islamic Front party which backed the coup that installed Bashir in 1989. Analysts said last year that Taha had become a possible successor to Bashir should the president step down.
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.
Abdel Rahman had been the NCP's political secretary.
But Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein keeps his job, party officials told a press conference at NCP headquarters.
Both Hussein and Bashir are wanted by The Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region.
Also retaining his post was Foreign Minister Ali Ahmad Karti.
A minority of cabinet members, who belong to parties other than the NCP, will keep their portfolios pending decisions by those parties, officials said.
'Efficient and sinister'
The new vice president Saleh was a leader of the 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.
SMC reported that the new government was first announced by Nafie after an NCP meeting which ended at dawn.
Another regime stalwart who lost his jobs is oil minister Awad Ahmad al-Jaz. He is replaced by Makawi Mohammed Awad, formerly director of Sudan's railway network.
Finance and Economy Minister Ali Mahmud al-Rasul, who presided over the collapse of the Sudanese currency and soaring inflation, has been replaced by Badereldien Mahmoud.
He was deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sudan.
"There's quite a lot of new, younger faces but none of them is a politician of calibre," Gizouli said.
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 less than half that figure.
The Atabani group issued a memorandum to Bashir in which they said the government's response to the protests betrayed its Islamic foundations.
They said "professionals" should take over economic policy, and demanded respect for constitutional freedoms.
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. (AFP)