KHARTOUM: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir declared a nationwide state of emergency on Friday and dissolved the government, in an effort to quell weeks of demonstrations that have rocked his iron-fisted rule of three decades.
“I announce imposing a state of emergency across the country for one year,” Bashir said in a televised address to the nation from the presidential palace in Khartoum.
“I announce dissolving the government at the federal level and at the provincial levels,” he added.
Deadly protests have rocked the east African country since December 19, with demonstrators accusing the government of mismanaging the nation’s economy and calling on the veteran leader to step down.
Chanting “freedom, peace, justice,” protesters took to the streets after the government tripled the price of bread.
Protest organisers vowed to press on with their demonstrations until Bashir stepped 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.
Late on Friday, crowds of protesters took to the streets in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, but they were quickly confronted with tear gas by riot police, witnesses said.
Bashir has remained defiant in the face of demonstrations, dismissing protesters’ calls for him to step down.
Demonstrations first erupted in the farming town of Atbara, but the rallies swiftly mushroomed into a major challenge to Bashir’s rule stretching back three decades.
Officials say 31 people have died in the protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed including medics and children.
The country’s feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have launched a sweeping crackdown to quell the protests, jailing hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists.
Bashir, 75, swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989 that overthrew the elected government of then premier Sadiq al-Mahdi.
Bashir had previously imposed a nationwide emergency in December 1999, when a political crisis erupted after he broke away with his then mentor Islamist Hassan al-Turabi.
On Friday, he said that he had asked to postpone meetings of a parliamentary panel that was set up to look into amending the country’s constitution to allow a third presidential term. He did not elaborate.
Bashir is considering running for a third term after he was chosen as a candidate by his ruling National Congress Party for the election due next year.
Sudan’s financial woes were long a cause of popular frustration before the anger spilt onto the streets after the bread price hike.
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 Bashir, 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 saying when the new government would be announced.
The protest campaign has emerged as the biggest challenge the veteran leader has faced in three decades.
From the provinces to the streets of the capital and Omdurman the demonstrations have spread through villages, towns and cities across the country.
They have drawn in a cross section of society including middle-class professionals, agricultural labourers, youths and Bashir’s political opponents — with thousands of women and men rallying across the country on some days.
Only the three conflict zones of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan have remained largely devoid of mass demonstrations.
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.
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.
Bashir has countered the anti-government demonstrations with his own rallies, promising economic development in the country and promoting peace in its war zones.