Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH

Khartoum — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has banned unlicensed public gatherings and given sweeping new powers to police in a series of emergency decrees to counter the most sustained anti-government street unrest of his 30-year rule.

The decrees came amid fresh protests in the capital Khartoum, where security forces used teargas against hundreds of students demonstrating inside the campus of the country’s oldest women’s university.

Security forces were given the power to search any building, restrict movement of people and public transport, arrest individuals suspected of a crime related to the state of emergency, and seize assets or property during investigations.

Prosecutors were given the authority to strip people such as MPs and military officials of immunity, and set up special emergency courts. Publishing news that “harms the state or citizens, or calls for undermining the constitutional system” was also banned on punishment of up to 10 years in jail.

Bashir also announced a ban on trading or hoarding fuel products and subsidised goods, and jail terms for people travelling abroad carrying more than $3,000 in currency or 150 grams of gold.

Protesters have staged almost daily demonstrations since December, demanding that Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, steps down. The protests were initially inspired by high prices for bread but have turned into a sustained campaign against Bashir and his government.

Security forces have responded with teargas, and sometimes live fire. At least 33 people have died, according to official statistics, including three members of security forces. Protesters believe the true death toll is higher.

In the latest protests on Monday, witnesses said security forces fired teargas against hundreds of female students who had demonstrated inside their Ahfad university campus, one of the country's most prestigious academic institutions. They said some students burned tyres outside the campus gate.

“We had a protest stand demanding freedom and to end injustice,” said a 21-year-old student who declined to be identified. There were no immediate reports of casualties. A police spokesperson was not immediately available for  comment.

Witnesses also reported a separate protest in central Khartoum, where hundreds of demonstrators blocked a main road. Security forces dispersed a separate demonstration in the upscale Maamoura district in eastern Khartoum on Monday night, witnesses said.

State of emergency

Bashir declared a one-year state of emergency on Friday and dissolved the central and state governments. He called on parliament to postpone constitutional amendments that would have let him seek another term in a 2020 presidential election, although he stopped short of saying he would not stand.

He had since appointed a caretaker central government and new governors for the country's 18 states, all officers in the armed forces or security services.

Hassan Bashir, economics professor at the state-run Al Neelain University, said the emergency measures would hurt the economy by scaring away investors.

“Security measures will not resolve the economic crisis,” he said. “The situation in Sudan requires more openness and not more political and economic restrictions.”

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed in Darfur region in western Sudan. Sudan denies any atrocities and says it does not recognise the court.

On Monday, Bashir’s National Congress Party elected Ahmed Haroun, a former governor of North Kordofan state, as deputy head of the party for political and organisational affairs. Haroun is also wanted  on Darfur war crimes charges.