, KHARTOUM, Sudan, Jan 9 – Crowds gathered Wednesday in Sudan’s capital in a show of support for the embattled regime of President Omar al-Bashir following several weeks of deadly anti-government protests.
The rally by hundreds of backers of Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since 1989 when he swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup, came as rival protesters prepared to stage their own demonstration in Khartoum.
Hundreds of riot policemen, soldiers and security agents, some carrying machine guns, were deployed around the site of the pro-Bashir rally in the Green Yard, a large open ground in the city, an AFP correspondent reported.
Men, women and children carrying banners supporting Bashir arrived in buses, he said.
Since December angry protesters have taken to the streets after a government decision to triple the price of bread at a time when the country has been hit by an acute shortage of foreign currency and inflation of 70 percent.
Protests that initially broke out in towns and villages before spreading to Khartoum quickly turned into anti-government rallies, with analysts describing them as the biggest threat yet to Bashir’s regime.
Authorities say at least 19 people including two security personnel have been killed during the demonstrations, but rights group Amnesty International has put the death toll at 37.
Bashir has blamed the violence on conspirators without naming them.
“Those who conspired against us and planted traitors amongst us are those who carried out arson attacks and caused damage,” the official SUNA news agency quoted Bashir telling soldiers at a military base on Tuesday near the town of Atbara where the first protest broke out on December 19.
In the initial protests several buildings of Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were torched.
“Some people are saying that the army is taking power,” Bashir said, slamming some political groups who previously were with the government but have now called for his resignation.
“I have no problem with that, because the army always guards the security of our homeland,” he said without offering further details.
More than 800 protesters have been arrested since the unrest began, officials say, insisting that the situation has now stabilised.
Sudan has been facing a mounting economic crisis in the past year, with food and fuel shortages regularly reported across several cities, including Khartoum.
Later on Wednesday, organisers of anti-government protests have called for a new demonstration in Khartoum.