CAIRO – Sudan's president has ordered an investigation into "recent events" in the country, a reference to two weeks of violent protests against his 29-year rule, the state news agency reported as Omar al-Bashir seeks to placate popular anger over his autocratic rule and economic policies.
According to the report late Monday, al-Bashir tasked Justice Minister Mohammed Ahmed Salem with leading the probe committee, but gave no details on what exactly it would investigate.
The development follows calls by Western nations, including the United States and Britain, and rights groups for authorities in Sudan to investigate the use of lethal force by security forces against demonstrators. It also follows unconfirmed reports that al-Bashir's political rivals may have engineered an acute shortage of fuel and other basic commodities to whip up anger against the government.
Authorities have said that 19 people died in the protests, while Amnesty International said it has "credible reports" that 37 died in the first five days of protests. Human Rights Watch said Monday that independent groups monitoring the situation in Sudan have put the death toll at 40 since the protests erupted on Dec. 19.
Al-Bashir on Monday sought to defuse the anger sweeping the country, reassuring the Sudanese of better days ahead and pledging more "transparency, effectiveness and justice in all our national institutions" in an address to the nation marking the anniversary of Sudan's independence 63 years ago.
"Our country is going through pressing economic conditions that have hurt a large segment of society," he said. "We appreciate this suffering, feel its impact and we thank our people for their beautiful patience."
Al-Bashir said the 2019 budget would maintain state subsidies on many commodities, raise wages, refrain from introducing new taxes and do more for the poorest. He did not elaborate.
Sudan's economy has stagnated for most of al-Bashir's rule. He has also failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation, losing three quarters of Sudan's oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.
Critics charge that rampant corruption — protesters have been chanting against the "government of thieves" — is eating up a significant part of government funds and engineering shortages of basic items to manipulate prices.