Bashir promises `freedom to all` after Sudan crackdown
Khartoum: Sudan`s President Omar al-Bashir on Saturday promised "freedom for all" within the law and renewed his pledge to build an Islamic state in north Sudan, after a week of anti-regime protests and sweeping arrests.
"We open the door of freedom, according to the constitutional law, and that freedom is offered to everyone. But if anyone wants to disturb or destroy... he will be acting outside the law," Bashir told thousands of supporters at an Islamic rally 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Khartoum.
His comments, addressed to a crowd of Sufi practitioners and broadcast live on state television, were Bashir`s first since an outburst of localised but vocal demonstrations in north Sudan this week calling for regime change, civil liberties and an end to debilitating price rises.
Police used tear gas and batons to disperse the protests, which were organised by student activists via the Internet, and led to more than 100 arrests, many injuries and a media crackdown.
Top officials in Sudan`s ruling National Congress Party had already called the protests illegal and isolated.
The biggest demonstrations took place on Sunday, and coincided with the first official results of last month`s referendum on southern independence, which showed a landslide vote for secession.
Bashir repeated his intention to reinforce sharia, or Islamic law, in the north when the south becomes independent in July, as expected.
"Ninety-eight percent of the people in north Sudan are Muslim... Islam is the official religion of the state, and the state will govern by sharia, and this is the basis on which we are going to build a new state."
Explaining the government`s unpopular decision to raise fuel and sugar prices last month, which followed an escalation in import costs and deteriorating state finances, Bashir said the extra money generated would be redistributed to the poor.
"There are direct and indirect subsidies. We have removed some indirect subsidies to increase direct subsidies to the poor people who need them."
He made no mention in his speech of the popular unrest in neighbouring Egypt, where 12 days of nationwide demonstrations have rocked the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
Widespread economic and political discontent have provoked sporadic protests in north Sudan in recent weeks, but the powerful security forces have maintained tight control in the capital.
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