Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses parliament in the capital Khartoum on April 1, 2019 in his first such speech since he imposed a state of emergency across the country on February 22. Picture: AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir addresses parliament in the capital Khartoum on April 1, 2019 in his first such speech since he imposed a state of emergency across the country on February 22. Picture: AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY

Khartoum — Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Monday acknowledged that the demands of anti-government protesters are “legitimate” but said they had been expressed unlawfully, causing several deaths.

Protests have rocked the East African country since December, with demonstrators calling on the veteran leader to step down.

They accuse Bashir’s government of mismanaging the country’s economy, leading to soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.

“The economic crisis has impacted a wide section of our people,” Bashir told MPs in his first speech to parliament since a state of emergency he imposed on February 22 to quell the protests.

“Some of them took to the streets to express their legitimate demands, but some of those gatherings used unlawful ways and destroyed properties.”

In the initial days of protests that erupted on December 19, several offices and buildings belonging to Bashir’s governing National Congress Party were set on fire during the demonstrations.

“Some political groups are trying to use this to enhance hatred among the community because of which we lost many people,” said Bashir.

Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51, including children and medics.

Protests first erupted in the central town of Atbara in response to a government decision to triple the price of bread.

But the rallies quickly escalated into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir’s iron-fisted rule of three decades.

Protesters shouting “freedom, peace, justice” have staged regular demonstrations against the government.

Bashir has remained defiant and imposed a nationwide state of emergency along with a slew of tough measures including a ban on unauthorised rallies.

The authorities have set up special emergency courts to investigate violations of the emergency rule, with many protesters jailed for participating in banned rallies.

Bashir, 75, who swept to power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup, initially imposed a year-long state of emergency but legislators have cut it to six months.

AFP