KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, facing near-daily demonstrations against his government, took a newly conciliatory tone with the protesters on Wednesday, saying they are mostly young with poor prospects, and pledging to release detained journalists.
Mr Bashir’s remarks appeared to be part of a new strategy to soften the government’s stance towards the protests after the Defence Minister and Prime Minister made similar remarks in recent days.
“Most of the protesters are young and there are factors that drove them to take to the streets, including inflation, which led to higher prices – and the limited job opportunities that don’t match the number of graduates,” Mr Bashir told journalists invited to the presidential palace for a “discussion of recent events”.
The remarks are a dramatic contrast to Mr Bashir’s previous demand for the “rats to go back to their holes”.
Mr Bashir warned against destabilising the Sudanese state, however, saying “you can look at what happened in Libya,” which has been in a state of turmoil since a 2011 civil war led to the overthrow of longstanding ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The protests, which started on December 19, were triggered by price increases, limits on cash withdrawals and other economic hardships but have since shifted focus to Mr Bashir’s 30-year rule.
Police officers have used teargas and occasionally live bullets to disperse the demonstrations. Human rights activists say at least 45 have been killed.
The government puts the death toll at 30, including two security personnel. Political activists, civil society members and journalists have been detained.
Mr Bashir said all journalists who have been jailed in connection with the protests would be released. Activists estimate the number of journalists in prison at 16.
He also said young peopl’s anger was fuelled by the “wrong implementation” of Sudan’s public order laws.
The morality laws have been criticised by human rights organisations for restricting the freedom of women by, for example, making it a crime for a woman to wear trousers.