Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on Wednesday has promised to release detained journalists as he takes a newly conciliatory tone with protesters.
Bashir said those protesting are mostly young people with poor prospects.
Sudan has been gripped by nationwide demonstrations since mid-December, with crowds taking to the streets initially over price increases. The protests quickly escalated into rallies against Bashir’s three-decade rule.
“Most of the protesters are young and there are factors that drove them to take to the streets, including inflation, which led to higher prices – and the limited job opportunities that don’t match the number of graduates,” Bashir told journalists invited to the presidential palace for a “discussion of recent events”.
He said all journalists who have been jailed in connection with the protests would be released. Activists estimate the number of journalists in prison at 16.
Bashir also said young people’s anger was fuelled by the “wrong implementation” of Sudan’s public order laws.
The morality laws have been criticised by human rights organisations for restricting the freedom of women by, for example, making it a crime for a woman to wear trousers.
Activists say the decades-old law targets mainly women, often accusing them 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.
His remarks on Wednesday contrast dramatically to Bashir’s previous demand for the “rats to go back to their holes”.
Bashir, however, warned against destabilising the Sudanese state, saying “you can look at what happened in Libya,” which has been in a state of turmoil since a 2011 civil war led to the overthrow of long-standing ruler Muammar Gaddafi.