SUDAN: PRES AL-BASHIR REJECTS CALLS TO STEP DOWN AS PROTESTS MOUNT

KHARTOUM-- Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is facing the most persistent protests since he seized power in 1989, dismissed calls for him to step down.

Addressing soldiers at a military base near Atbara, northeast of the capital Khartoum, Bashir scoffed at calls by demonstrators for him to hand over power to the military.

"We have no problem because the army does not move to support traitors, but moves to support the homeland and its achievements," Bashir said, according to excerpts of the speech broadcasted by a TV channel affiliated to his ruling party.

He said that there are those who conspire against Sudan and seek to attack it. There are no other options but a national dialogue and elections. There is no alternative to al-Bashir.

A group of 22 parties submitted a memorandum last week asking the president to step down.

Bashir, a former army general, came to power in a military coup backed by Islamist extremists and has held on through successive elections that his opponents say were not free nor fair.

Protests against price rises and other economic hardship began on Dec. 19. Authorities say, 19 people, including two security officials, have been killed, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch put the number at double that.

Security forces have blocked and broken up demonstrations using live ammunition as well as teargas and stun grenades, witnesses say.

Tuesdays' demonstration in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman was one of the largest demonstrations in recent weeks.

Video posted on social media showed hundreds of people chanting "freedom, peace, justice!" and "revolution is the people's choice".

Governor Al-Tayib Al-Amin said the protests were limited and that police dealt with the situation professionally.

Britain, the United States, Canada, and Norway said in a joint statement Tuesday they were concerned about the Sudanese government's response to the protests.

"We are appalled by reports of deaths and serious injury to those exercising their legitimate right to protest, as well as reports of the use of live ammunition against protesters," the statement said.

They called on the government to immediately release journalists, opposition leaders, human rights activists, and other protesters currently detained.

Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman said that more than 800 people had been detained since the protests began nearly three weeks ago.

"The total number of protesters arrested until now is 816," Osman told parliament.

Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for war crimes and genocide against civilians during the conflict in Darfur but he has yet not been arrested. He dismissed the accusations.

"I tell people to keep the president at least until the next election," he said Tuesday. Sudan's next general elections are expected for 2021 after being postponed twice.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK

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