Protests which began more than a month ago in Sudan are ridiculously small, linked to opposition political parties and amount to nothing, a senior ruling party official said on Monday.
In an interview with AFP, Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid of the ruling National Congress Party denied the demonstrations have been peaceful and he defended freedom of expression in the country despite concerns raised by Western governments and rights groups over a clampdown on demonstrators and journalists.
“I don’t think that these protests have a weight in public opinion. A few people here and there... and coming in one mosque... What is this? Ridiculous!” Ebaid said, laughing.
“We cannot compare what happened here, from (a) few people, like what happened in Egypt or Tunisia or Libya,” said Ebaid, referring to the Arab Spring revolts that began in December 2010 against authoritarian rulers in North Africa and the Middle East.
Protests in Sudan started on June 16 when University of Khartoum students voiced their opposition to high food prices.
Meanwhile, around 300 Sudanese lawyers protested on Monday, calling for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's security forces to stop using force against peaceful protests.
The lawyers, most of them associated with opposition parties, gathered in front of Sudan’s top court in the center of Khartoum shouting “freedom” and “demonstrating is a constitutional right,” witnesses said.
Sudanese activists estimate some 2,000 people have been detained since small-scale protests began four weeks ago against austerity measures including cuts to fuel subsidies, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a report last week.
Bashir, in power since 1989, has dismissed the protests as insignificant, saying Sudan would see no “Arab spring,” just a hot summer.
Police surrounded the lawyers but did not use teargas or batons as they had to break up protests over recent weeks, witnesses said.
A delegation of lawyers submitted a memorandum to Bashir at his presidential palace.
“We call on you to immediately order to stop the use of force against peaceful demonstrators and release all arrested people,” the memorandum said.
Sudan is suffering a severe economic crisis after losing much of its oil production when South Sudan broke away to became independent a year ago.
Inflation was 37.2 percent in June, double the level of June 2011, adding to the hardship of millions of Sudanese after years of crises, ethnic conflicts and U.S. sanctions.
Egyptian journalist freed
Meanwhile, Egypt’s president has flown a journalist, detained for nearly two weeks in Sudan after covering protests there, back to Cairo with him on his private plane.
A post on President Mohammed Morsi’s Facebook page says Shaimaa Adel left Sudan and was flown to Ethiopia, where she had breakfast Monday with the president, who was attending a summit. Then they flew home.
Adel was detained July 3 in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, covering protests against new austerity measures and Bashir’s rule. She works for the independent Egyptian daily al-Watan newspaper.
Egypt’s official news agency, MENA, reported that the Egyptian president pressed al-Bashir to release Adel.
Bashir explained that Sudan detained her for entering Sudan without permission to work as a journalist, but agreed to free her.