KHARTOUM – President Omar al-Bashir named a new prime minister Saturday as he pressed on with a shake-up at the top, even as protest leaders dismissed his move to impose a state of emergency across Sudan to quell nationwide demonstrations.
Al-Bashir’s three-decade rule has been rocked by two months of protests that a deadly crackdown has failed to suppress. On Friday, he imposed a nationwide state of emergency and dissolved the federal and provincial governments.
In a televised speech to the nation, the veteran leader pledged to form a government of technocrats to address Sudan’s chronic economic woes, which have been the driving force behind the protests.
On Saturday, al-Bashir sacked his vice president and longtime ally Bakri Hassan Saleh, replacing him with Defense Minister Gen. Awad Ibnouf.
In a separate decree, he appointed Mohamed Tahir Ela, former governor of the agricultural state of Jazeera, as prime minister.
But protest organizers and their supporters in the political opposition dismissed the reshuffles.
They said the state of emergency showed that al-Bashir’s rule was weakened and only its overthrow would now satisfy the protesters.
“Imposing a state of emergency shows the fear within the regime,” the Alliance for Freedom and Change said.
“We will continue with our people to take to the streets across all towns and villages until our demand has been achieved.”
The National Umma Party, whose leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was Sudan’s elected prime minister when al-Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, said the protests against his successor’s iron-fisted rule would carry on until he quits.
“Dissolving the government and imposing a state of emergency is nothing but a repetition of this regime’s failures,” it said.
“Nothing will satisfy the people who are taking to the streets except the overthrow of this regime.”
Late on Saturday, crowds of protesters took to the streets in Omdurman, the capital’s twin city, and in a district of Khartoum, witnesses said.
Demonstrators chanted their rallying cry of “freedom, peace, justice,” but were quickly confronted by riot police who fired tear gas to disperse them, witnesses said.
Analysts said the state of emergency was an act of desperation in the face of public anger.
“The declaration of emergency powers only makes it less likely that the economy can be revived,” said Eric Reeves, a senior fellow at Harvard University, who has tracked Sudan’s politics and economy for two decades.
“The regime has never understood economics. … That’s why they are in the mess they are.”
Sudan has been hit by a chronic shortage of hard currency to pay for imports that has worsened since South Sudan became independent in 2011, taking with it the bulk of oil earnings.
The resulting shortages in basic goods have fueled spiraling inflation that has devastated the purchasing power and living standards of ordinary Sudanese from agricultural laborers to middle-class professionals.
The immediate trigger for the demonstrations was a government decision last December to triple the price of bread, but the protests swiftly mushroomed as they fed into wider grievances.
The Sudanese Professionals Association — an umbrella group of teachers, doctors and engineers — has taken the lead, using social media to organize daily rallies.
It was only afterward that the political opposition joined in, forming an alliance with the SPA.
“The imposing of emergency unfortunately suggests that things will get worse before they get better,” said Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group think tank.
“It concentrates powers in Bashir’s hands and sets the stage for a confrontation with the protest movement, which may become more violent than it has been.”
Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed, while Sudanese officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence since the demonstrations began on December 19.
Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists have been jailed in a crackdown led by the feared National Intelligence and Security Service.
And the crackdown shows no sign of easing.
Soon after he imposed the emergency, prominent newspaper editor Osman Mirghani was detained by security agents for comments he made in a television interview criticizing the move.
Al-Bashir told Sudanese he understood the scale of the economic crisis facing the country.
“The economic issue needs to be tackled by qualified people and for this I will form a government made of people of quality,” he said.
The protest alliance, which also includes the political wings of rebel groups in Sudan’s three domestic war zones, has united around a platform that promises radical reforms, including an end to huge military spending on the conflicts.