Facing Protests, Sudan’s Leader Declares Yearlong State of Emergency

Facing Protests, Sudan’s Leader Declares Yearlong State of Emergency

CAIRO — President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan imposed a yearlong state of emergency and dissolved the federal and state governments on Friday, in an attempt to end months of nationwide street protests that have shaken his authority after three decades of rule.

In a televised address broadcast live from the presidential palace in Khartoum, Mr. al-Bashir declared the state of emergency, disbanded the federal government, and replaced the state governors with military generals.

Mr. al-Bashir also said he was pausing, if not ending, his effort to amend Sudan’s constitution so he could run for a third term of office when the current one ends in 2020.

Reuters, citing a presidential statement, reported Friday night that Mr. al-Bashir had appointed a caretaker administration, leaving the current defense, foreign and justice ministers in place.

In his speech. he acknowledged the economic hardship that triggered the first protests in December, but said the protest movement had been hijacked by elements with “agendas” to achieve “zero sum scenarios.”

Mr. al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, has ruled Sudan with an iron fist for decades, and the immediate implications of the state of emergency were unclear. It seemed to signal a hardening of his attitude toward the protests, which have been led by young professionals angered by the economic decay and corruption that have become hallmarks of Mr. al-Bashir’s rule.

The demonstrations first began on Dec. 19 in the town of Atbara, and were focused on the soaring bread prices. They quickly grew into a movement calling for the ouster of the president, with near daily protests spreading to cities across the country.

The protesters come from across Sudanese society, including sections of a shrinking upper middle class that has withered with the country’s precipitous economic slide. Soaring fuel prices have caused factories to close, and youth employment stands at about 27 percent, according to World Bank estimates.

“Our country is passing through a difficult and complicated phase in our national history,” Mr. al-Bashir said in his speech on Friday.

He has blamed external factors for the collapse, but protesters say it stems from decades of kleptocratic, incompetent rule. Their frequent chant during marches — before riot police arrive with tear gas and sometimes bullets — is, “Just fall, that is all!”

Protest leaders say that more than 1,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service. Internet access has been restricted in an effort to block social media posts used by the mostly young protesters to organize demonstrations.

The government has said that 31 people have died in protest-related violence. Human Rights Watch has put the toll at 51 people killed since mid-December.

On Friday, Mr. al-Bashir stumbled several times as he read his speech. In an attempt to mollify the protesters, he offered prayers for those killed and announced plans for economic reform under the new government, which has yet to be fully formed. He invited the opposition “to move forward and engage in dialogue regarding the current issues of our country.”

In recent years, Mr. al-Bashir has fired or marginalized potential rivals for power, and little in his long rule suggests a new willingness for rapprochement.

Mr. al-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989, and since then Sudan has endured famines, American missile strikes, isolation and a civil war that led to the independence of South Sudan in 2011. Two years before that, the International Criminal Court ordered Mr. al-Bashir arrested on charges he played an “essential role” in atrocities, including murder, rape, torture and displacement of civilians during the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

In 2017, the United States lifted sanctions on Sudan, but the relief failed to stem a steep economic decline. Mr. al-Bashir has lobbied the State Department to remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a factor in the country’s economic woes.

Before the televised address, Sudan’s intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, told reporters that Mr. al-Bashir would announce his resignation as head of the ruling National Congress Party.

But Mr. al-Bashir said nothing in the speech about his party, and activists fear the state of emergency could presage even harsher measures against their movement.

In the immediate aftermath of his speech, however, demonstrators appeared undeterred. Videos posted on social media suggested that protests against his rule continued in Khartoum.

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