Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has handed leadership of the country’s ruling party to his newly appointed deputy, the party said late Thursday, weeks into protests against Bashir’s rule.
Demonstrations and deadly clashes have rocked Bashir’s iron-fisted rule since December, and last week he imposed a year-long state of emergency to quell the protests.
“President Omar al-Bashir has transferred his authority as chief of the party to Ahmed Harun,” the ruling National Congress Party said in a statement.
“Harun will serve as the acting chief of NCP until the party’s next general convention, where a new president of the party will be elected.”
Bashir appointed Harun, wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in the conflict in Darfur, as his deputy party chief last week as part of top level changes in his administration in the face of ongoing protests.
Bashir himself is wanted by the ICC for alleged genocide and war crimes in Darfur, charges he denies.
The NCP has an overwhelming majority in parliament, and according to its charter, the chief of the party becomes its candidate in presidential elections.
The next presidential election in Sudan is scheduled in 2020.
The NCP was formed a few years after Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, with him as party chief ever since.
But protestors have staged regular demonstrations across Sudan since December, accusing the administration of mismanaging the economy and calling on Bashir to step down.
He declared a year-long state of emergency across the country last week after an initial crackdown failed to suppress the protests.
Bashir also dissolved the federal and provincial governments, appointing 16 army officers and two from the feared National Intelligence and Security Service as governors of the country’s 18 provinces.
Bashir also ordered the creation of special emergency courts to investigate violations during the state of emergency.
On Thursday, eight protesters were sentenced to jail by emergency courts in Khartoum for participating in unauthorised rallies earlier in the day, the first such punishments handed down since the courts were established.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed.
Protests first erupted against a government decision to triple the price of bread, but swiftly escalated into demonstrations against Bashir’s rule.