CAIRO – Sudan's largest opposition groups on Thursday called for a fresh wave of protests to demand that President Omar al-Bashir step down, as the longtime ruler made another attempt at staunching popular discontent by promising wage hikes and appealing to patriotism.
In a joint statement, four groups called for nationwide protests Friday and a march on the president's Nile-side palace on Sunday. They also called for a march on parliament in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman to present a petition demanding that the 74-year-old general-turned-president step down.
The demands are likely to turn up pressure on al-Bashir to find a way out of the crisis. Sudan has seen two weeks of violent street protests, with dozens killed. The protests were initially sparked by steep price hikes, a fuel shortage and a liquidity crunch that forced authorities to place a ceiling on bank withdrawals and led to long lines at ATMs.
Authorities have declared emergency laws and a nighttime curfew in some cities. Classes have been suspended at schools and universities across much of Sudan, a country of 43 million.
On Thursday, al-Bashir touted improvements to Sudan's infrastructure since he seized power in a 1989 coup. He said international sanctions targeting Sudan, which is on the U.S. list of countries sponsoring terrorism, have inhibited economic progress.
"We are subjected to both war and sanctions, but Sudan has remained steadfast," he said in a speech before representatives of pro-government unions in Khartoum.
He promised wage increases starting this month, an overhaul of the health system and improved benefits for pensioners, without elaborating.
"The Sudanese people deserve more than this. They deserve to lead a life of dignity," he said. "We could have taken the near and easy path and sold our independence, dignity in return for some dollars ... but, together, we will come out stronger from this crisis."
He spoke of his humble upbringing and recalled a time in his youth when he fell and broke his front tooth while working on a construction site.
"They gave me salty water to rinse my mouth and I continued working... Let no one talk to me about poverty and suffering because I lived them," he said, adding that he never replaced the missing tooth because he wanted to remember the hardships he had endured.
The crowd responded with chants of "March on, march on, oh Bashir!" and "God is greatest!"
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 south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.
A year earlier, he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Sudan's western region of Darfur.