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Sudan’s Bashir pledges democratic reforms, orders release of jailed journalists

February 6, 2019 (KHARTOUM) - Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir Wednesday pledged to change repressive laws that target women and curb freedom of expression before to announce the release of detained journalists.

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President Omer al-Bashir (file photo)

Al-Bashir who faces unprecedented protests that have lasted since seven weeks calling for his resignation met on Wednesday evening with a number of journalists picked by the presidency to discuss the political crisis in Sudan.

During the meeting, several journalists who are not seen as opponents to the regime voiced their concerns saying that the political crisis is not only protests in the street but it is in every house and has become a social fact.

They also pointed to the excessive use of violence against the protesters and called to withdraw the other security organs and to only deploy the riot police to disperse the demonstrations.

During the meeting with the journalists and commentators, al-Bashir spoke with a conciliatory tone. He said the young protesters have been driven to the street by many factors including unemployment and inflation.

He further criticized the Public Order Law which imposes excessive restrictions on a range of personal behaviour but mainly targets women.

The Public Order Act is "one of the causes of injustice among young people in the country," he said.

He went further to say he will call the judicial and police authorities to discuss with them this repressive before to add that "its application is opposite by 180 degrees to the Islamic law".

Under Sudan’s public order, Sudanese women face arrest and punishment of up to 40 lashes if they wear "indecent" clothes or behave in an "immoral" manner. The public order police have interpreted the law to prohibit women and girls from wearing trousers and knee-length skirts.

The massive participation of women in the protests is seen as motivated by the 1998 Public Order Act.

The Sudanese president further announced the release of all the journalists detained recently for their coverage of the anti-government protests.

According to a recent list released by activists, there are 16 arrested journalists. One of them has even been tried and sentenced to 3-month detention.

Regarding the opposition forces, al-Bashir said that the doors of dialogue are open to all political forces, including opposition groups outside the country.

Since the beginning of the nationwide anti-government protests, the Sudanese president refused to dialogue with the opposition parties saying that they can take part in the upcoming general election of 2020 and implement their programmes if they are elected.

The opposition forces, for their part, call for democratic reforms ensuring freedoms before to run in a free and fair election.

Two weeks ago the United States condemned the increasing violence including the use of live fire against the peaceful protesters in Sudan.

Washington further recalled that the normalization of bilateral relations and Sudan’s removal from the list of countries supporting terrorism require "meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights".

The two countries, last November, reached an understanding providing to review Sudan’s designation as a country supporting terrorism. According to the deal Khartoum has to implement democratic reforms before its removal from the list.