Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday acknowledged that a controversial public order law and the country’s deteriorating economic situation had fuelled anger among youths leading protests calling for him to step down.
Sudan has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations since December with angry crowds taking to the streets, initially over a government decision to triple the price of bread.
The protests quickly escalated into rallies against Bashir’s three-decade rule, with protesters chanting “freedom, peace, justice,” as they called on the veteran leader to resign.
Officials say 30 people have died in the protests so far, while rights group Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed.
“Those who took to the streets are youths and majority of them are women,” Bashir, 75, told journalists at his residence in the capital Khartoum late on Wednesday.
He said the country’s controversial public order law was “one of the reasons” fuelling the anger.
Activists say the decades-old law targets mainly women, who are accused of “indecent dressing and immoral behaviour”.
Hefty punishments including fines and jail terms are imposed on women found guilty under the legislation.
According to some Sudanese women’s rights groups more than 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging in 2016.
Activists say that under the law nearly every gathering of Sudanese men and women, whether in public or private, can be a police target.
Bashir said overall economic conditions, including high inflation, was also driving the protests.
“There are limited jobs available for the youths… while their ambitions are higher than what the reality is,” said Bashir, who swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
Bashir has regularly blamed the country’s economic woes on the United States, which imposed a trade embargo on Sudan in 1997.
The embargo was lifted in October 2017 but a drastic economic recovery has failed to materialise.
On Wednesday, Bashir also ordered the release of all journalists detained amid a crackdown launched by the authorities since the protests erupted in December.
Eighteen Sudanese journalists have been held in detention since the protests first erupted on December 19.
Rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been arrested in the crackdown, including protesters, opposition leaders and activists.
Last week the chief of the National Intelligence and Security Service, that spearheaded the crackdown, ordered the release of all detainees held during demonstrations.
It is unclear how many people have been freed.