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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Sudan's Omar Al Bashir vows rural development as new protests loom

The embattled leader hopes to stave off unrest after protests erupted in December 2018

Mr Bashir, who came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, is considering running for a third elected presidential term.Reuters
Mr Bashir, who came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, is considering running for a third elected presidential term.Reuters

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir on Sunday pledged to bolster rural development, as he seeks to face down anti-government demonstrations that have rocked cities and villages.

The veteran leader has been on a charm offensive with rallies across the country in a bid to head off weeks of protests seen as the biggest threat to his 30-year rule.

On Sunday, he travelled across North Kordofan, addressing hundreds of people in three separate televised rallies, including a night-time event in the state capital of Al Obeid.

In the morning he addressed hundreds of villagers in the day's first rally, promising to bring clean drinking water to rural areas "across Sudan".

The speech came after he inaugurated a new 340-kilometre highway linking North Kordofan to Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum.

"Building such a road in present economic conditions is not an easy thing to achieve," said Mr Bashir, after being escorted to the stage by dozens of men on camels as crowds of villagers clapped and whistled to Sudanese tunes.

"Along this road we will bring electricity to boost the region's growth."

Hours later Mr Bashir addressed a second rally where he called on the country's young men and women to help develop the country.

"The youth, for whom we have built universities, have to be ready to continue with the mission of building a new Sudan," he said in a village where hundreds had gathered.

The statement came after Prime Minister Moutaz Mousa Abdallah on Saturday called the protest movement a "respectable youth movement" and said its voice should be heeded.

As darkness fell, Mr Bashir, dressed in traditional robe and turban, spoke to hundreds of cheering supporters, including students, at an open air stadium in Al Obeid where authorities have renovated a hospital.

"Patients often go to England, India or Jordan for surgeries, but now we can do them at Al Obeid," he said as crowds cheered and loyalists set off fireworks.

Demonstrations erupted in Sudan in December after a government decision to triple the price of bread unleashed frustrations at years of deteriorating living conditions and growing hardship.

Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed.

Mr Bashir's attempts to rally support have so far failed to halt the wave of discontent, with the group leading the demonstrations calling for new protests over the next few days starting on Sunday night.

Late on Sunday, a group of protesters chanted "revolution, revolution," in a neighbourhood of Omdurman, witnesses said.

Mr Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials have repeatedly said that the government can only be changed through elections.

The leader, who came to power in a coup in 1989, is considering running for a third term in polls due next year.

Updated: February 23, 2019 10:19 AM

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