Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Sudan's Omar Al Bashir declares state of emergency

New prime minister named after government dissolved

Omar Al Bashir delivers a speech to the nation on February 22, 2019, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum. AFP
Omar Al Bashir delivers a speech to the nation on February 22, 2019, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum. AFP

Sudan's Omar Al Bashir has named a new prime minister and first vice president the day after dissolving the government and declaring a year-long state of emergency.

More protests erupted on Saturday as police reportedly fired tear gas at demonstrators who burned tyres and chanted: "Revolution is the people's choice".

After two months of near-continuous protest against his more than three-decade rule, Mr Al Bashir took the dramatic step of dissolving state and national governments on Friday night.

He chose Mohamed Tahir Ayala, the governor of Gezira state, as his new prime minister and defence minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf as first vice president.

As well as the state of emergency, Mr Al Bashir also appeared to extend an olive branch to protesters, who took to the streets late last year against price rises and the economic situation. He called on parliament to pause debates over a constitutional amendment that would allow him to seek another term at the 2020 presidential election, but did not elaborate.

"Firm economic measures should be taken in a new government", Mr Al Bashir said, adding that he would assign that task to a qualified team.

"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.

Mr Al Bashir then issued a decree to establish a caretaker administration of senior officials from each ministry. He kept the defence, foreign and justice ministers in place.

If his move left any doubt that the president was seeking to consolidate power, he also replaced state governors with military officials.

Until Friday’s speech, the country had been locked in political limbo, caught between a weakened leader and a protest movement that, while undiminished after weeks or rallying, has been unable to land a knockout blow to Mr Al Bashir’s presidency.

It is not yet clear if the president’s latest move will lead him through the current crisis or galvanise the voices lined up against him and precipitate his departure.

"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 Mr Al Bashir announced a state of emergency.

The National Consensus Forces, another major opposition group, said the president had declared the state of emergency "to counter our popular revolution that will not stop, God willing, before we achieve our goal and topple the regime”.

FILE PHOTO: Sudanese demonstrators run from a teargas canister fired by riot policemen to disperse them as they participate in anti-government protests in Omdurman, Khartoum, Sudan January 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
Sudanese demonstrators run from a teargas canister fired by riot police in Omdurman, Khartoum on January 20. Reuters

Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 in the farming town of Atbara, but the rallies swiftly mushroomed into what is probably the most serious threat to the president's 30-year rule.

Sudan's financial woes were long a cause of popular frustration before the anger spilt on to the streets after the government tripled the price of bread.

Soaring inflation, along with acute foreign currency shortages, have battered the economy, especially after the independence of South Sudan in 2011 took away the bulk of oil earnings.

"Our country is suffering from a difficult and complicated situation, the most difficult in its history," said Mr Al Bashir on Friday, dressed in a turban and traditional Sudanese robe, in front of a group of advisers and outgoing ministers.

"The economic issue needs to be tackled by qualified people and for this, I will form a government made of people of quality," he said, without adding when the new government would be announced.

On the streets of Omdurman, crowds chanted "Freedom" and set fire to tyres, while others blocked a main road. But the rally in the twin city of the capital Khartoum was met with a swift response, as tear gas and riot police were used to disperse the crowds.

About 200 protesters had also gathered in Khartoum on Friday evening ahead of Mr Al Bashir’s speech.

Officials say 31 people have died in the protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed, including children. Medical professionals have also told of being targeted by the authorities for treating wounded protesters.

The anti-government movements have drawn in a cross-section of society, including middle-class professionals, agricultural labourers, youths and Mr Bashir's political opponents – with thousands of people rallying across the country on some days.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir leaves after delivering a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir leaves after delivering a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan February 22. Reuters

Only the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have remained largely devoid of mass demonstrations.

Mr Al Bashir, a former army officer, came to power in 1989 after a military coup. He led his Islamist party to victory in the 2010 and 2015 elections after changes in the constitution following a peace agreement with southern rebels, who then seceded to form South Sudan. Both votes were criticised by international observers for rights violations, irregularities and inconsistencies.

Mr Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and genocide arising out of the long-running conflict in Darfur. He denies the charges.

Analysts say that the president has stayed at the top by pitting ally against ally and crushing dissent so that he is the sole arbiter of political power in the government.

Mr Al Bashir will also be acutely aware of Sudan’s history of uprisings – two previous governments have been brought down by mass rallies to be replaced with democratically elected administrations. But then too, these elected governments have, in turn, failed to bring about the desired economic development and been replaced by military administrations – including after Mr Al Bashir’s putsch.

Protest organisers have called on political groups to join their movement by signing a "Document for Freedom and Change".

The text outlines a post-Bashir plan including rebuilding Sudan's justice system and halting the country's dire economic decline, the key reason for the nationwide demonstrations.

Mr Al Bashir has countered the anti-government demonstrations with his own rallies, promising economic development in the country and promoting peace in its war zones.

Updated: February 24, 2019 12:10 PM