Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday pledged to bolster rural development, as he seeks to face down anti-government demonstrations that have rocked cities and villages. The veteran leader has been on a charm offensive with rallies across the country in a bid to head off weeks of protests seen as the biggest threat to his 30-year rule. Addressing hundreds of villagers in North Kordofan state at a televised event, he promised to bring clean drinking water to rural areas “across Sudan” and open a new hospital in the region.

The speech came after he inaugurated a new 340-kilometre highway linking North Kordofan to Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum. “Building such a road in present economic conditions is not an easy thing to achieve. Along this road we will bring electricity to boost the region’s growth,” said Bashir, after being escorted to the stage by dozens of men on camels.

Hours later Bashir addressed another rally where he called on the country’s young men and women to help develop the country. “The youth, for whom we have built universities, have to be ready to continue with the mission of building a new Sudan,” he said. The statement came after Prime Minister Moutaz Mousa Abdallah on Saturday called the protest movement a “respectable youth movement” and said its voice should be heeded.

Demonstrations erupted in Sudan in December after a government decision to triple the price of bread unleashed frustrations at years of deteriorating living conditions and growing hardship. Officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence, while rights group Human Rights Watch says at least 51 have been killed.

Bashir’s attempts to rally support have so far failed to halt the wave of discontent, with the group leading the demonstrations calling for fresh protests over the next few days starting Sunday night. Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials have repeatedly said that the government can be changed only through elections. The leader, who came to power after a coup in 1989, is considering running for a third elected presidential term in polls due next year.