Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is set to arrive in Qatar, his first overseas trip since widespread anti-government protests rocked the nation.
Bashir is to meet Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Wednesday to discuss ways of boosting relations, Qatar state news agency QNA reported Monday.
Bashir has tried to downplay the protests, insisting that foreign “agents” and “infiltrators” are responsible for the dissent as well as the violence that has followed.
“There are some people among the protesters who are killing the demonstrators,” Bashir said in a speech Sunday.
The country has seen large-scale demonstrations since Dec. 19, when the government raised bread prices. The protests have grown in scope, and many are calling for an end to Bashir's three-decade-long rule.
The government has confirmed that 24 people have died during the protests, but the U.N. says credible reports suggest the death toll may be nearly double that. There also have been numerous injuries and reports that security forces fired tear gas and bullets inside a hospital as they pursued injured protesters.
More than 800 people have been arrested, including journalists, opposition leaders, protesters and civil society members.
"People are hungry, and they see the looting of the country's resources by the ruling clique," Mohammed "Mo" Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British billionaire and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, told VOA by phone Friday. "Just, people had enough."
"If 70 percent of the budget is allocated to the president, at his whims, to spend on the militias, the armies, the security forces — what is left? Thirty percent to support education, health, agriculture, road infrastructure, clean water?" Ibrahim said. "This is not a way to run a country."
Ibrahim called on the international community to help stop the brutal crackdown in Sudan. "It just cannot go on unpunished, and we look for the international community to really stand up and say enough is enough," Ibrahim said.
Salem Solomon of VOA's Africa Division contributed to this report.