Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, facing the most persistent protests since he seized power in 1989, dismissed calls for him to step down as security forces fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in the eastern city of al-Qadarif.
Bashir, a former army general, came to power in an Islamist-backed coup and has held on through successive elections that his opponents say were not free or fair.
Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for war crimes and other abuses against civilians during the conflict in Darfur but he has yet not been arrested since he dismisses the accusations.
He addressed soldiers at a military base near Atbara, northeast of the capital Khartoum and scoffed at calls by demonstrators for him to hand over power to the military.
“We have no problem because the army does not move to support traitors, but moves to support the homeland and its achievements,” Bashir said, according to excerpts of the speech broadcast by a TV channel affiliated to his ruling party.
Protests began in Sudan on December 19, 2018 over worsening daily living conditions for people, including fuel shortages, increasing price of a loaf of bread and currency devaluation. Authorities say 19 people, including two security officials, have been killed, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch put the number at double that.
Security forces have blocked and broken up demonstrations using live ammunition as well as tear gas and stun grenades, witnesses said.
Three residents of al-Qadarif, who were not involved in the protests themselves, said security forces fired tear gas to break up the protest, which was organised by a group of unions known as the Sudanese Association of Professionals.
Britain, the United States, Canada and Norway said in a joint statement on Tuesday they were concerned about the Sudanese government’s response to the protests.
“We are appalled by reports of deaths and serious injury to those exercising their legitimate right to protest, as well as reports of the use of live ammunition against protesters,” the statement said.
“Our countries emphasize the right of the Sudanese people to protest peacefully and in accordance with the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression guaranteed under Sudanese and international human rights law,” it added.
“We urge the Government of Sudan to ensure that a fully transparent and independent investigation into the deaths of protestors takes place as soon as possible, and that those responsible are held to account,” it also said.
They called on the government to release immediately journalists, opposition leaders, human rights activists, and other protesters now held in detention so also to respond to the current challenges by implementing the necessary political reforms, to allow the Sudanese people to exercise their constitutional rights to peacefully express their political, economic and social views freely and without any fear of retaliation or persecution.
Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman said on Monday more than 800 people had been detained since the protests began nearly three weeks ago.
Al Shafi Ahmed Mohamed has waded into the anti-government crisis in Sudan calling on the president to resign so that a transitional government can chart a path for democracy. He belongs to the National Congress Party, NCP, having served as its secretary in the past. He has also worked as Sudan ambassador to Iran in the past.
He is the latest ruling party official to call for Bashir to resign. According to him, the resignation will pave the way for a transitional, technocratic government.
But the Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has rejected calls for president Omar al-Bashir to resign in the wake of protests, arguing that this would be contrary to the national consensus reached after dialogue in 2016.
The statement by the ruling party on Tuesday followed defections of several political entities from the ruling coalition, who joined opposition parties and protesters demanding for the fall of Bashir’s regime.
“President Omar al-Bashir has ordered the setting up of a fact-finding committee headed by the justice minister to look into the incidents of the past few days,” state news agency SUNA reported quoting a presidential decree.
The government raised the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (from about two to six US cents).
The ensuing protests quickly evolved into anti-government rallies in Khartoum and several other cities.
In the initial days of the protests, several buildings and offices of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party were torched by protesters.
Riot police have managed to disperse the rallies so far, while security agents have arrested several opposition leaders and activists in a crackdown on suspected organisers.
Sudan is facing an acute foreign exchange crisis and soaring inflation despite Washington lifting an economic embargo in October 2017.
The foreign exchange crisis has steadily escalated since Sudan’s partition in 2011, when South Sudan broke away, taking with it the bulk of oil revenues.
On dissensus, Sudan’s opposition leader, Sadiq al-Mahdi, has called for a “national and international investigation” into the deaths of protesters during price demonstrations that rocked the country this week.
The protest movement “is legal and was launched because of the deteriorating situation in Sudan,” he said in his first news conference since returning back home after almost a year in exile.
“The regime has failed and there is economic deterioration and erosion of the national currency’s value,” He added.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has also urged the Sudanese government to uphold the rights of its citizens to protest peacefully and express their legitimate grievances.
In a press statement, the Foundation also expressed the need for peace and urges authorities to stop the spread of violence and prevent further instability within the country.
According to the statement, this will ensure that the Sudanese people are given a voice and space to exercise their democratic right to protest peacefully in a safe environment.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation said it was following the increasing concern of the recent political developments in Sudan.
It noted that the last Ibrahim Index of African governance, which was published in October last year detailed some deteriorating governance trends in the East African nation.
It said, Sudan featured in the bottom half of the rankings out of 54 African countries in political participation, democratic elections, capacity of election monitoring agencies and freedom of association and assembling among others.
After all being said, done and protested, will Omar al-Bashir heed this call or would it be a futile exertion?