Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, facing the most persistent protests since he seized power in 1989, on Wednesday dismissed calls for him to step down as security forces fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in the eastern city of al-Qadarif.

Addressing soldiers at a military base near Atbara, northeast of the capital Khartoum, Bashir scoffed at calls by demonstrators for him to hand over power to the military. Bashir, a former army general, came to power in an Islamist-backed coup and has held on through successive elections that his opponents say were not free or fair. Protests against price rises and other economic hardship began on December 19. Authorities say 19 people, including two security officials, have been killed, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch put the number at double that. Security forces have blocked and broken up demonstrations using live ammunition as well as teargas and stun grenades, witnesses say. Tuesdays’ demonstration in al-Qadarif was one of the largest demonstrations in recent weeks.