Sudan’s Bashir Defends Crackdown as Opponents Plan More Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Sudanese police fired tear gas to disperse a new protest against President Omar al-Bashir in the capital, hours after he defended the use of force to quell demonstrations that have left at least 19 people dead.

Police confronted protesters Monday as they began a march in downtown Khartoum called by an independent union and some opposition parties and youth groups to urge al-Bashir, who’s ruled the African nation for almost 30 years, to resign.

“We won’t allow our country to slide into insecurity,” al-Bashir said the previous day in Khartoum, in an address to police officers broadcast on national TV. He said force was used to protect property, not with the aim of killing.

Widespread discontent with Sudan’s economic crisis, which includes severe cash shortages and inflation of almost 70 percent, is representing one of the most serious challenges to al-Bashir, 74, since he took power in a 1989 Islamist-backed military coup.

The government last week said 17 civilians and two soldiers had been killed in the protests in cities nationwide that began around Dec. 19. Amnesty International said Dec. 24 it had credible reports that 37 people were shot dead by security forces in the first five days.

Al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on allegations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. While he’s in his second and final term under a constitution introduced in 2005, Sudanese lawmakers this month backed a proposal to abolish presidential term limits and let him seek re-election the year after next.

Sudanese lawmakers on Sunday passed a budget for 2019 that boosts spending by 39 percent and guarantees no further taxes or lifts of subsidies on items such as wheat, fuel or electricity. It also promises to increase salaries for public-sector workers and increase the number of families covered by social insurance.

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