Sudan protesters rally as new cabinet sworn in

sudan-cabinet

Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir attends a meeting at the presidential palace in the capital on Thursday. Agence France-Presse

Scores of protesters rallied in the Sudanese capital on Thursday as President Omar Al Bashir swore in a new cabinet to tackle an economic crisis that has triggered months of protests against his rule.

Chanting their movement’s catchcry “Freedom, peace, justice,” protesters took to the streets in areas of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, witnesses said.

But security forces swiftly confronted them with tear gas, they said.

“How long will you remain silent?” chanted some protesters, urging residents to join the demonstrations.

Bashir on Thursday swore in a new cabinet tasked with tackling the economic crisis, the key factor behind the protests.

The new cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohamed Tahir Eila is Sudan’s third government in less than two years, with the previous two sacked by Bashir for failing to revive the economy.

“We recognise the main issues, the issues of bread and oil, that need to be solved,” Eila told reporters on Wednesday.

“The economic issues need to be solved immediately as it impacts inflation and our exchange rate.” Sudan has for years been grappling with soaring inflation and an acute shortage of foreign currency, especially since the secession of south in 2011 that took away the bulk of oil earnings.

Deadly protests have rocked the east African country since Dec.19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.

The protests escalated into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s rule which stretches back three decades, with protesters calling on him to step down.

On Feb.22, Bashir imposed a nationwide state of emergency to quell the protests after an initial crackdown failed to suppress the movement.

Analysts say the protests have turned into the biggest threat to his rule since he came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Since the state of emergency came into force, the scale and intensity of protests have shrunk, with demonstrators taking to the streets mostly on Thursdays.

Officials say 31 people have died during the protests so far, but Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51.

Bashir has imposed several tough measures to curb the protests.

They include a ban on unauthorised rallies, permitting security forces to carry out raids and searches without warrants and setting up of emergency courts to investigate violations of the state of emergency.

President Omar Al Bashir said he would seek dialogue with the opposition for the sake of stability.

In Khartoum’s Burri neighbourhood, one group of protesters that included children chanted “the revolution is the choice of the people,” a live video on Facebook showed. A few were drumming while others ululated.

In a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, Bashir appointed at least 15 new ministers.

Last month he declared a state of emergency, dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, which he denies. He has been lobbying for Sudan to be removed from a list of countries Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.

The listing has blocked the investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, economists say.

Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiralling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.

Three months after Sudanese protesters rose up against Bashir, the longtime autocrat has bound himself more tightly to the military and refuses to bow to their demands.

The wily 74-year-old has remained in power through three decades of war and sanctions, the secession of Sudan’s oil-rich south in 2011 and an international arrest warrant for genocide and war crimes linked to the Darfur conflict.

But since December he has faced the biggest protests of his long rule, with political parties and unions demanding his ouster and demonstrators chanting slogans from the 2011 Arab Spring.

Agencies