Sudan's Bashir Defies Calls to Step Down as Pressure Mounts

(Bloomberg) -- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Monday rejected calls to step down, as protests over his 30-year rule entered their fourth week with doctors decrying abuses by security forces and journalists being arrested.

In a rally of supporters in the Southern Darfur state, al-Bashir stressed that only elections in 2020 would determine who leads the country, Arabic media reported. The speech came as protests mushroomed from the capital, Khartoum, to other cities across the country, including in Darfur.

The unrest, triggered by outrage over the cost of living, has proven to be one of the most potent challenges to the 75-year-old al-Bashir’s rule since he came to power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup. The near daily demonstrations are an echo of the mass movements that powered the 2011 uprisings that rocked the Arab world.

While al-Bashir has sought to downplay the demonstrations, critics and rights groups say security forces have forcibly broken up protests in violence that has left almost two dozen people dead.

The crackdowns have been wide-ranging. Authorities arrested 28 journalists attending a press freedom sit-in, the head of the Sudanese Journalists’ Network, Khalid Fathi, said by phone.

Doctors Detained

A day earlier, doctors accused security forces of firing tear gas and ammunition around hospitals in Bahri, part of greater Khartoum, and Madani, a southeastern city, the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate said in a statement. It came less than a week after security officers were accused of storming a hospital in Omdurman, a twin city of the capital, firing live bullets and tear gas as they pursued protesters seeking treatment for gunshot injuries.

The security forces’ actions are “an unprecedented breach of international agreements and total disregard of the sanctity of hospitals, health-care providers and above all, the sick and wounded,” the syndicate said.

Neither police nor Health Ministry spokesmen answered calls seeking comment on the doctors’ statement. Khartoum state’s health chief, Mamoun Humeda, said last week he’s forming a committee to investigate the Jan. 9 attack on the Omdurman hospital.

The syndicate also said more than 12 doctors have been unlawfully detained without charge since Dec. 25, calling on the government to immediately release them and safeguard medical facilities.

The World Health Organization on Saturday expressed its concern over a hospital attack, describing it as a “direct violation of medical neutrality and human-rights principles.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.