Sudan protesters rally as Bashir promises 'dialogue'

Omar Bashir, facing the most sustained challenge to his rule since he took power in a military coup three decades ago, swears in a new cabinet and promises to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

CAIRO - Hundreds of protesters chanting anti-government slogans took to the streets of several neighbourhoods in the Sudanese capital on Thursday, eyewitnesses said, while President Omar al-Bashir said he would seek dialogue with the opposition for the sake of stability.

In Khartoum's Burri neighbourhood, one group of protesters that included children chanted "the revolution is the choice of the people," a live video on Facebook showed. A few were drumming while others ululated.

Some wore masks as protection from tear gas in the latest in what have become near-daily protests in Sudan since Dec. 19.

In eastern Khartoum, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside a private university, witnesses said. More than 200 also marched in one of Khartoum's main streets, drawing tear-gas volleys from police.

"How long will you remain silent?" chanted some protesters, urging residents to join the demonstrations.

Bashir, facing the most sustained challenge to his rule since he took power in a military coup three decades ago, promised during a swearing-in ceremony for a new cabinet that he would engage in dialogue with the opposition.

The wave of protest was triggered by price increases and cash shortages.

"Securing peace and silencing the sound of the rifle is our most important priority for the country and we will communicate with the forces who reject dialogue for the sake of political stability," Bashir said, according to a presidency statement.

In a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, Bashir appointed at least 15 new ministers.

The new cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohamed Tahir Eila is Sudan's third government in less than two years, with the previous two sacked by Bashir for failing to revive the economy.

"We recognise the main issues, the issues of bread and oil, that need to be solved," Eila told reporters on Wednesday.

"The economic issues need to be solved immediately as it impacts inflation and our exchange rate."

Last month Bashir declared a state of emergency, dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings.

He has imposed several tough measures to curb the protests. They include a ban on unauthorised rallies, permitting security forces to carry out raids and searches without warrants and setting up of emergency courts to investigate violations of the state of emergency.

As part of the emergency measures, courts have been trying protesters in evening sessions, sparking more rallies outside court buildings.

Since the state of emergency came into force, the scale and intensity of protests have shrunk, with demonstrators taking to the streets mostly on Thursdays. But the protests have not stopped; several demonstrations have been held since the new measures came into effect.

Officials say 31 people have died during the protests so far, but Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, which he denies. He has been lobbying for Sudan to be removed from a list of countries Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.

The listing has blocked the investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, economists say.

Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiralling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.