Sudan's opposition unites to call on dictator Bashir to resign

Sudan's main opposition groups have issued their first joint call for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, appearing at a news conference together for the first time since protests erupted across the country nearly two months ago.

Concern about economic conditions has spurred weeks of sometimes deadly protest

Opposition parties in Sudan supporting the anti-government protests took part in a press conference with other protest campaigners in Khartoum on Wednesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Sudan's main opposition groups on Wednesday issued their first joint call for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, appearing at a news conference together for the first time since protests erupted across the country nearly two months ago.

The opposition had been fragmented across several small but influential political parties, which formed three separate coalitions, and the Sudanese Professionals Association, a union that has led calls for demonstrations which have posed the most significant challenge to Bashir in his nearly 30-year rule.

At their first joint news conference Wednesday, the groups called for the government to step down to pave the way for four-year transitional governance followed by elections.

"We have decided on the program that would take place after the regime falls and [will] hold a constitutional dialogue conference at the end of the transitional period to decide how Sudan will be ruled," said Mohamed Mokhtar al-Khatib, the general secretary of the Communist party.

Sudan has seen protests, often involving hundreds of people, since Dec. 19 which were sparked by rising food prices and cash shortages and have since turned into an expression of opposition to Bashir.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, in power since 1989, arrives to address members of the Popular Defence Force (PDF), a government-aligned paramilitary group, in the capital Khartoum on Tuesday. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

Around 200 opposition members present at Wednesday's press conference chanted "Down, that's it!" — one of the main rallying calls of the protests.

Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for genocide and war crimes in the Darfur conflict that killed tens of thousands, called for peace this week at his own rally in the capital Khartoum.

"We reaffirm that this year 2019 will be the year of peace and the permanent silencing of the rifle in Sudan, and there is a will to continue peace in Sudan and convince the other side of the utility of peace," Bashir said.

Authorities have blamed the unrest on "infiltrators" and foreign agents and said they are taking steps to resolve Sudan's economic problems.

Tear gas is fired at Sudanese demonstrators during an anti-government protest in Khartoum on Feb. 7. Protests have been ongoing since mid-December. (Reuters)

Security forces have used tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition to disperse demonstrators, and they have arrested hundreds of protesters and opposition figures. At least 40 people have been killed, according to Amnesty International.

Activists, speaking to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Wednesday police arrested at least 14 academics who were among protesters the previous day outside Khartoum University. Their whereabouts are unknown, they added.

With files from Associated Press