Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has told the police to reduce the force used against anti-government demonstrators, as the UN called for a probe into deaths during the protests.
In a meeting with top police officers in Khartoum on Sunday, al-Bashir instructed them to refrain from using excessive force against protesters.
“Vandalism, destruction and theft only worsen the situation and will not fix things. Our duty is to stop these acts of looting and violence,” al-Bashir said defiantly.
“We want to maintain security and we want the police to do that by using less force.”
At least 19 people have been killed in the wave of protests that has spread across the country since December 19, according to the government. Rights group Amnesty International says 37 people have died.
The protests, sparked by price hikes and fuel shortages, quickly turned into growing demands that al-Bashir – in power since 1989 – step down immediately.
According to Sara Abdelgalil, president of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union in the UK, injured protesters received at hospitals in Sudan bears marks of excessive use of force on them.
“Cases received at hospitals over the past week have shown many gunshot wounds to the head, neck and chest. Peaceful protesters are being targeted to be killed,” she told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
Sudan is facing an acute foreign exchange crisis and soaring inflation despite Washington lifting economic sanctions in October 2017.
Inflation is running at 70 percent and the Sudanese pound has plunged, while shortages of bread and fuel have regularly hit several cities.
“We admit that we have economic problems… but they can’t be solved by destructions, lootings, and thefts,” al-Bashir said, referring to buildings and ruling offices torched by protesters in several cities during the demonstrations.
“We don’t want our country to go the way other countries in the region have gone,” he said.
“We will not allow our people to be refugees. If this happens where can we go in this region?”
Although the protests initially appeared to be tied to a recent increase in the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three, analysts believe the people’s grievances run deeper than that.
“The trigger of the protests was the rise in bread prices, but underlying these protests is long-standing public discontent over the economic and political policies of Bashir’s regime,” Mohamed Osman, an independent Sudanese analyst, told Al Jazeera earlier this week.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed “for calm and restraint” and called on “the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths and violence”, a UN spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.
The UN chief is “following with concern” developments in Sudan and “emphasises the need to safeguard freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”, the spokesman added.