A government decision to increase the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three (from about two to six US cents) has sparked demonstrations across the country since Wednesday.
“We condemn the armed repression of demonstrations,” said Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, during a press conference in Omdurman on the west bank of the Nile.
While officials give a lower death toll, according to Mahdi “22 people were martyred and several others wounded”. He gave no further details regarding the death toll, which could not be independently verified.
The protests first erupted in the eastern city of Atbara before spreading to Al-Qadarif, also in eastern Sudan, and then to the capital Khartoum and twin city Omdurman and other areas.
Two demonstrators were killed in Atbara and six others in Al-Qadarif, officials said Thursday, as protesters torched offices of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of President Omar al-Bashir.
Mahdi called for a “national and international investigation” into the deaths and said demonstrations will continue to rock Sudan.
The protest movement “is legal and was launched because of the deteriorating situation in Sudan,” he said in his first news conference since returning home on Wednesday after almost a year in exile.
A fixture of Sudanese politics since the 1960s, Mahdi was prime minister from 1966 to 1967 and again from 1986 to 1989.
His government was the last one to be democratically elected in Sudan, before it was toppled by a 1989 coup launched by Bashir.
Since then Mahdi’s Umma Party has acted as Sudan’s main opposition group and has regularly campaigned against the policies of Bashir’s government.