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Hundreds protest in Khartoum; Bashir promises dialogue

CAIRO (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters chanting anti-government slogans took to the streets of several neighborhoods in the Sudanese capital on Thursday, eyewitnesses said, while President Omar al-Bashir said he would seek dialogue with the opposition for the sake of stability.

FILE PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

In Khartoum’s Burri neighborhood, one group of protesters that included children chanted “the revolution is the choice of the people,” a live video on Facebook showed. A few were drumming while others ululated.

Some wore masks as protection from tear gas in the latest in what have become near-daily protests in Sudan since Dec. 19.

In eastern Khartoum, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside a private university, witnesses said. More than 200 also marched in one of Khartoum’s main streets, drawing tear-gas volleys from police.

Bashir, facing the most sustained challenge to his rule since he took power in a military coup three decades ago, promised during a swearing-in ceremony for a new cabinet that he would engage in dialogue with the opposition.

The wave of protest was triggered by price increases and cash shortages.

“Securing peace and silencing the sound of the rifle is our most important priority for the country and we will communicate with the forces who reject dialogue for the sake of political stability,” Bashir said, according to a presidency statement.

In a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, Bashir appointed at least 15 new ministers.

Last month he declared a state of emergency, dissolved the central government, replaced state governors with security officials, expanded police powers and banned unlicensed public gatherings.

That has not stopped the protesters, who have held several demonstrations since the new measures came into effect.

As part of the emergency measures, courts have been trying protesters in evening sessions, sparking more rallies outside court buildings.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, which he denies. He has been lobbying for Sudan to be removed from a list of countries Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.

The listing has blocked the investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, economists say.

Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiraling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Lena Masri; Editing by Frances Kerry