KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan's government is merging five government ministries as part of its austerity measures that have sparked protests, the state news agency reported Wednesday.
The latest move, approved by President Omar al-Bashir, reduces the number of Cabinet posts from 31 to 26. Also, the parliament announced it will cut the number of its specialized committees in another effort to reduce spending.
Demonstrations erupted when subsidy cuts increased the cost of public transportation and doubled the price of fuel and food. The demonstrators, who include students and opposition figures, have also called for an end to al-Bashir's 23-year reign.
They appeared partially inspired by the revolts in neighboring Egypt and Libya, chanting the familiar uprising mantra: "The people want to topple the regime."
Al-Bashir has explained the need for belt-tightening steps by noting that since the secession of South Sudan, oil revenues have dwindled. He also pointed to the cost of the ongoing conflict with South Sudan.
Although the protests have been relatively small scale so far, Sudanese police have responded with a swift crackdown, detaining activists and journalists and breaking up rallies with tear gas. Government officials called the protesters "saboteurs."
The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement Tuesday that authorities have raided media outlets and a journalist's home in the past two weeks. An Egyptian journalist working for the financial news service Bloomberg was deported after she was briefly detained, and three critical media websites were blocked, CPJ said.
The media watchdog said security agents raided the office of Agence-France Press in Khartoum, arrested a local journalist working for the agency and threatened to destroy the office computers if the staff didn't delete pictures of protests taken by the detained journalist.
A Sudanese blogger's laptop was confiscated, and she was detained twice for her coverage of the protests.
"Demonstrations are inherently newsworthy, and journalists have a professional obligation to cover them," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Sudanese authorities should allow them to do so without obstruction."
On Wednesday, another Egyptian journalist detained a day earlier while covering the protests was released, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said. It was not clear if she will be deported or allowed to go back to work.
Sudanese journalists who attempted to protest media restrictions with a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Commission Wednesday were prevented from reaching its offices by Sudanese security agents.
A group of opposition parties agreed Wednesday to work together "to topple the regime" through peaceful means, said Siddique Tawer, a member of an opposition umbrella group that includes some of Sudan's oldest political parties.
In the past, Al-Bashir's regime has dealt with opposition groups and rivals in the ruling party by either co-opting them or crushing them.
Al-Bashir has been charged by the International Criminal Court with war crimes over a long conflict in Darfur.