KHARTOUM, (Reuters) -Sudan’s president promised a future of freedom and open government on Saturday in a strikingly conciliatory speech following a week of small protests in Sudan and an uprising in neighbouring Egypt.
Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s address to supporters on the outskirts of Khartoum was short on detail and made only a glancing reference to recent unrest but was notable for its disarming rhetoric.
“We open the door for freedom. We have nothing to fear from freedom … Freedom is guaranteed by the constitution,” Bashir told the crowd.
“Anybody who wants to make chaos, we will deal with him according to the law. Our doors and our hearts and our hands are open without fear.”
Young Sudanese have mounted a series of short-lived demonstrations across the north in recent weeks complaining about price rises, and calling for political change and an end tohuman rights abuses.
Facebook pages and other social networking websites said the protests were inspired by the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In each case witnesses said police, sometimes armed with batons and teargas, moved in quickly to end the protests.
Bashir’s government is under additional economic and political pressure as it waits for the widely expected secession of the country’s south, the source of most of its oil.
Southerners overwhelmingly voted to declare independence in a referendum in January, according to early results, in a vote promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war with the north.
Bashir, usually known for his more combative rhetoric, said he accepted almost all southerners had voted for separation.
He reminded the crowd that his National Congress Party (NCP) had also won the support of most northerners in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
“The NCP has a mandate but we open the door for everybody who wants to participate,” Bashir told the crowd in an apparent reference to northern opposition parties, some of whom have recently called for protests.
Security officers arrested 10 journalists from Sudan’s Communist Party newspaper after protests on Wednesday and detained opposition Islamist Hassan al-Turabi last month.
Sudan’s government has so far declined to comment on the protests in Egypt.
Bashir said a separate north would continue to be governed by Islamic Sharia law because the vast majority of its citizens were Muslim.
Bashir, who campaigned for southerners to vote for unity, has surprised many commentators with his quick acceptance of the preliminary referendum results.
Washington has offered Khartoum incentives, including removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, if it delivers a free and peaceful referendum and resolves its separate Darfur conflict.
U.S. officials have also suggested they might be able to help in efforts to forgive Sudan’s crushing debt and ease trade sanctions. Sudan is facing an economic crisis marked by soaring inflation and a shortage of foreign exchange.