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President Omar al-Bashir rejects calls to step down at ruling party rally

Omar al-Bashir has held power in Sudan since leading a 1989 Islamist-backed coup [AFP]

Date of publication: 9 January, 2019

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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will only leave office 'through election' at a pro-government rally held in Sudan's capital.

Sudan's ruling party held a large rally to support President Omar al-Bashir in the capital on Wednesday, to counter anti-government protests which have recently rocked the country.

As the president spoke, hundreds of protesters marched in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, in one of the largest protests in Sudan over the past weeks. Police moved in and fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The developments were the latest in three weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have engulfed Sudan since 19 December.

At a couter-demonstration staged by supporters of the ruling party in Khartoum, al-Bashir told a gathering of several thousands will only step down "through election".

There "are those who conspire against Sudan and seek to attack it. There are no other options but national dialogue and elections," he said in televised comments as supporters chanted "there is no alternative to al-Bashir".

"The decision is the decision of the Sudanese people through the ballot box," added al-Bashir, who then briefly danced on the stage.

Al-Bashir, who has held power since he leading an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, advised opposition parties to prepare for elections in 2020. 

As the president spoke at the Khartoum rally, which was likely the capital's largest gathering since protests began last month, hundreds of protesters in Omdurman chanted, "revolution is the people's choice" and "freedom, dignity and justice".

Police used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse them before they could deliver their note to the legislature. There were no reports of casualties.

Sudan's Parliament is packed with al-Bashir's loyalists, who are campaigning to amend the constitution to allow the general-turned-president, already one of the longest serving leaders in the region, to run for a new term in 2020 elections.

Sudan has been facing a mounting economic crisis over the past year led by an acute shortage of foreign currency.

The cost of food items and medicines has more than doubled and inflation has hit 70 percent.

Food and fuel shortages have been regularly reported across several cities, including Khartoum.

Most anti-government rallies have been spearheaded by professionals like doctors, teachers and engineers, but they have been swiftly broken up by riot police firing tear gas at protesters.

Sudanese authorities say at least 19 people including two security personnel have been killed in clashes during the demonstrations, but rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.

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