Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has appointed a new first vice president and prime minister, a day after declaring a year-long state of emergency to counter protests calling for his removal from office.
Bashir replaced long-time ally Bakri Hassan Saleh with Defence Minister General Awad Ibnoufas as VP and elevated governor of eastern Gezira state Mohamed Tahir Ayala to prime minister, a presidential decree said on Saturday.
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Ibnouf was involved in the coup that brought Bashir to power three decades ago, while Ayala has previously been touted by the Sudanese leader as his potential successor as president.
The move came after Bashir on Friday imposed a state of emergency across Sudan, dissolving the federal and provincial governments and replacing all state governors with military officials, in a bid to quell weeks of demonstrations that have rocked his iron-fisted rule.
In a televised address to the nation, the 75-year-old urged his opponents to join a “path of national reconciliation” and called on parliament to postpone constitutional amendments that would have allowed him to seek another term in a presidential election in 2020.
He also pledged to form a government of technocrats to address the country’s chronic economic woes, which have been the driving force behind the protests against his rule.
Acknowledging the demonstrations that have rocked his administration since mid-December, the Sudanese leader said the “demands of our people for better living conditions are lawful”.
“I will not stop calling for all parties to sit at the dialogue table,” Bashir said, adding he would remain on the “side of the youth who represent the future of Sudan“.
Hours after his address, Bashir issued two decrees which set up a caretaker administration comprising a senior official from each ministry and kept the defence, foreign and justice ministers in place.
Months of demonstrations
Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Sudan since December 19 calling for Bashir to stand down after nearly three decades in office.
While the protests were initially set off by a government decision to cut a vital bread subsidy, they quickly grew into a demand for more political freedom and an end to Bashir’s rule.
The Sudanese leader’s term ends in 2020 and he has repeatedly promised over the years not to make new runs for the presidency. Without amending the country’s constitution, he can not run for a third term.
The demonstrations against Bashir continued on Friday.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who marched and chanted anti-government slogans following Friday prayers at a major mosque near the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, witnesses said.
Activists say nearly 60 people have been killed since the protests began, while authorities put the death toll at 31.
Hundreds of protesters, including opposition leaders, activists and journalists have also been jailed by the widely-feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said it would likely become increasingly difficult for protesters to continue their demonstrations as the state of emergency kicks in.
“As per Sudan’s constitution, the state of emergency gives the police, the security forces and the military the right to search without warrant, to raid houses and arrest anybody they deem a threat to the country’s national security and economic development and stability,” Morgan said.
“Bashir also said that those protesting have been infiltrated by agents with foreign agendas and that they are people who want to destabilise the country. With that being said and with the state of emergency in place, it is likely that more force will be used against protesters,” she added.
Protesters vow to press on
However, organisers of anti-government protests across Sudan vowed to press on with their demonstrations until Bashir steps down.
“We are calling on our people to continue with demonstrations until the main aim of this uprising, which is the stepping down of the regime chief, is achieved,” said the Sudanese Professionals Association, which is spearheading the campaign, just after Bashir announced a state of emergency across the country.
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 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 on the country 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.