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Sudan: Al-Bashir Declares State of Emergency, Dissolves Gov't

  •  Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan Feb. 22, 2019

    Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan Feb. 22, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 February 2019

The Sudanese president, who has been in power for three decades, also announced that the Defense Minister would become vice president and while maintaining his position in the Defense Ministry.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, facing the country's biggest popular protests since he came to power 30 years ago, declared a one-year state of emergency Friday and called on parliament to postpone constitutional amendments that would allow him to seek another term in a 2020 presidential election.

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"Firm economic measures should be taken in a new government," al-Bashir said in a televised speech, adding that he would assign that task to a qualified team. Al-Bashir said he would dissolve the central government as well as state governments.

In a later decree, al-Bashir arranged a caretaker administration comprising a senior official from each ministry but kept the defense, foreign and justice ministers in place. Sudan's Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf was appointed first vice president and will remain the defense minister, the Sudanese presidency said Saturday.

"I extend a sincere invitation to the opposition forces, who are still outside the path of national reconciliation ... to move forward and engage in the dialogue regarding the current issues of our country," he said to the opposition.

Ahead of al-Bashir's speech, security forces fired tear gas to disperse at least 200 protesters in the capital, Khartoum, eyewitnesses said.

After al-Bashir's speech, angry protesters in the city of Omdurman chanted "Freedom!" and set fire to tires while others blocked a main road, a witness told Reuters. Police fired tear gas and chased protesters through small streets, which has become common practice over recent months as the protests have maintained stamina and numbers.

The National Consensus Forces, one of Sudan's main opposition groups, said more protests should greet al-Bashir's declaration of a state of emergency.

"(T)he regime declared a state of emergency to counter our popular revolution, which will not stop, God willing, before we achieve our goals and topple the regime", the opposition group said in a statement.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the main protest organizer, also issued a call for further demonstrations.

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"The demands of this revolution are clear ... foremost that this regime and its head step aside, including its repressive institutions", the SPA said in a statement.

The anti-government demonstrations began Dec. 19, triggered by price increases and cash shortages, but quickly developed into protests against Bashir's rule. Notably, the cost of bread had skyrocketed.

Security forces have used tear gas and live bullets to disperse protesters, and have made hundreds of arrests, including of opposition party members, activists and journalists. Activists say nearly 60 people have been killed during the protests, while authorities put the death toll at 32, including three security personnel.

Two weeks before the protests broke out in December, a majority of lawmakers had backed proposed amendments to the constitution that would allow al-Bashir to run for another term. However, last Saturday the parliamentary committee tasked with amending the constitution said it would indefinitely postpone a meeting to draft the changes, essentially blocking an attempt from al-Bashir to run again for the presidency.

The embattled president had previously blamed the protests on foreign "agents", and challenged his rivals to seek power through the ballot box. He had shown no sign that he was prepared to concede any power. Yet earlier this month he softened his tone dramatically, saying the protesters are mostly young people with poor prospects.

Even then al-Bashir warned against destabilizing the Sudanese state, saying, “You can look at what happened in Libya”, which has been in a state of turmoil since a 2011 civil war led to the overthrow of president Muammar Gaddafi after a NATO intervention.

A former army officer, al-Bashir came to power in 1989 after a military coup backed by a religious extremist group. He won elections in 2010 and 2015 after changes in the constitution following a peace agreement with southern rebels, who seceded to form an independent state of South Sudan in 2011 after a bloody civil war.

The Sudanese president is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, which he has denied. He has been lobbying for Sudan to be removed from a list of countries which Washington deems 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.

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