Bashir unfazed by protests

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, facing the most persistent protests since seizing power in 1989, dismissed calls to step down as security forces fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in al-Qadarif.

Addressing soldiers at a military base near Atbara, north-east of Khartoum, Bashir scoffed at calls by demonstrators to hand power to the military.

“We have no problem because the army does not move to support traitors, but moves to support the homeland and its achievements,” Bashir said, according to excerpts of a speech broadcast by a TV channel affiliated to the ruling party.

Former army general Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed coup and held on through successive elections opponents say were neither free nor fair.

Protests against price rises and economic hardship began on December 19. Authorities say 19 people, including two security officials, were killed, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch put the number at double that.

Security forces blocked and broke up demonstrations using live ammunition as well as teargas and stun grenades, witnesses say.

Tuesdays’demonstration in al-Qadarif was one of the largest in recent weeks.

Video on social media showed hundreds chanting “freedom, peace, justice!” and “revolution is the people’s choice”. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.

Three residents of al-Qadarif not part of the protests said security forces fired tear gas to break it up. It was organised by a group of unions known as the Sudanese Association of Professionals.

Governor Al-Tayib Al-Amin told Reuters protests were limited and police dealt with the situation professionally.

Britain, the United States, Canada and Norway said in a joint statement they were concerned about the Sudanese government’s response to protests.

“We are appalled by reports of deaths and serious injury to those exercising their legitimate right to protest, as well as reports of the use of live ammunition against protesters,” the statement said.

They called on government to immediately release journalists, opposition leaders, human rights activists, and other protesters in detention.

Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman said more than 800 people had been detained since protests began.