Sudan's Bashir forms panel to probe protest violence

2019-01-01 19:00
Omar al-Bashir (Picture: AFP)

Omar al-Bashir (Picture: AFP)

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Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir ordered authorities Tuesday to set up a committee to investigate violence during anti-government protests, even as a range of political groups called for a "new regime" in the country.

At least 19 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in protests that erupted in cities including the capital Khartoum on December 19, after a government decision to hike the price of bread.

Human rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.

"President Omar al-Bashir has ordered the setting up of a fact-finding committee headed by the justice minister to look into the incidents of the past few days," state news agency SUNA reported, quoting a presidential decree.

The government raised the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (about two to six US cents).

The ensuing protests quickly evolved into anti-government rallies in Khartoum and several other cities.

In the initial days of the protests, several buildings and offices of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party were torched by protesters.

Riot police have managed to disperse the rallies so far, while security agents have arrested several opposition leaders and activists in a crackdown on suspected organisers.

Calls for 'new regime'

Sudan is facing an acute foreign exchange crisis and soaring inflation despite Washington lifting an economic embargo in October 2017.

The foreign exchange crisis has steadily escalated since Sudan's partition in 2011, when South Sudan broke away, taking with it the bulk of oil revenues.

Inflation has hit 70% while shortages of bread and fuel have hit several cities.

On Tuesday, 22 political groups, including some close to the government, called for a "new regime" in the country.

"The current Bashir regime due to its political, economic, regional and international isolation cannot overcome the crisis," the group said in a joint statement issued in English at a press conference in Khartoum.

"It can only be revised by establishing a new regime in the country that can regain the confidence of the Sudanese people."

The groups, who had participated in a national dialogue process that Bashir launched in 2014 to tackle the country's social and economic problems, called for a new "transitional government... that would hold elections for restoring democracy and public freedoms".

Sudan Central Bank governor Mohamed Khair al-Zubair said at a separate press conference that the bank aimed to rein in inflation to 27% in 2019 by raising production of key commodities like wheat, oil and sugar.

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