Sudan‘s embattled President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to introduce some “real reforms” even as trade unions and professional associations plan a mass rally in the capital, Khartoum, asking him to step down.
In his first public comments since the anti-government protests began in Atbara city seven days ago, Bashir on Monday warned the protesters to not respond to attempts “at sowing discord” in the country.
The demonstrations are the biggest in several years against Bashir’s 29-year rule, with protesters enraged over rising prices, shortage of basic goods and a cash crisis.
The official Sudan News Agency (SUNA) quoted Bashir as saying that the state was “continuing with economic reforms that provide citizens with a decent life”.
Meanwhile, civil society groups have planned a Christmas Day rally in central Khartoum, less than a kilometre from the presidential palace, demanding Bashir’s removal.
Organisers said they plan to march to the palace and hand the presidency a memo calling for him to step down immediately.
The National Umma Party, one of the country’s top opposition parties, has supported the move. Its leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan’s last democratically elected prime minister until he was overthrown by Bashir in a coup in 1989, returned to Sudan on Wednesday and called for a democratic transition
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said Bashir did not specify his plan for economic reforms that provide citizens with a decent life.
“The president said he is going to offer reforms, but he did not mention how and what kind of reforms is he planning,” she said.
“Meanwhile, people are saying they don’t want any reforms since his government hasn’t done much in decades of rule.”
Government officials blame the unrest on “infiltrators”. Officials have recorded at least 12 deaths, though Amnesty International on Monday said it has “credible reports” that Sudanese police have killed at least 37 protesters in clashes during anti-government demonstrations.
Security forces in Sudan’s Sennar state arrested 25 people for “working to incite sabotage” and “planning to burn the Sennar municipal building and a number of governmental and private institutions”, SUNA reported on Monday.
Police reports were also filed against suspects for “crimes of sabotage” in Gadarif state, private TV channel Sudania 24 reported.
Since the demonstrations started spreading on Wednesday, police have dispersed protesters with tear gas as well as resorting to firing in some cases, residents say.
Authorities have shut schools and declared a state of emergency and curfews in several states.