Fuel price hikes which sparked deadly protests last week aimed to save Sudan from economic meltdown, President Omar al-Bashir said Tuesday in his first comments on the unrest which has left discontent simmering.
"The latest economic measures aim at preventing the collapse of the economy following the increase in inflation and instability in the exchange rate," he said, quoted by the official SUNA news agency.
Bashir also spoke of "conspiracies being planted by the saboteurs against our country".
On September 23 the government cut petrol subsidies, driving up pump prices by more than 60 percent.
The move came under a series of measures designed to stabilise an economy plagued by inflation and a weakening currency since South Sudan separated in 2011, taking with it most of Sudan's oil production.
The lost oil accounted for the majority of Khartoum's export earnings.
Bashir said the economy has suffered "negative impact" from the separation of the South and the disappearance of oil revenue.
But the public struggled to understand why their "brothers and daughters" had been shot dead during protests.
"Peaceful demonstration is a civic right," Bashir said, while SUNA added that he "asked God to have mercy upon the martyrs".
"We are very angry about what happened because those protesters, their only weapons were stones and their shouts," said Yusif Mohammed, 50, a teacher whose brother was killed in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.
"Why were they gunned down?"
Mohammed said he was proud of his brother "because by joining the demonstrations he was defending the right of his people."
Osama Mohammed, 47, who works in a private company, told AFP: "After the deaths of those youths we will not keep silent."
People were tired of talk of reform by a regime that has been in power for 24 years, said Osama Mohammed.
He lives in Omdurman which is home to most of the capital region's poor.
Sudan falls near the bottom of a United Nations human development index measuring income, health and education.
It also ranked among the lowest of 176 countries in Transparency International's index of perceived public sector corruption last year.
Authorities say 34 people have died since petrol and diesel prices jumped, sending thousands into the streets in the worst urban unrest during Bashir's rule.
He took power in a 1989 Islamist-backed coup.
Activists and international human rights groups said at least 50 people were shot dead during the peak of the protests last week, most of them in the greater Khartoum area.
The real toll was difficult to determine but "could be as much as 200," a foreign diplomat has told AFP.
"Our neighbour was killed in a demonstration. After what happened, we have lost confidence in this government," said Sosan Bashir, 35, a civil servant who lives in North Khartoum.
"Why did they kill our brothers and daughters?"
Their spilled blood will fuel more protests "to overthrow this regime," she predicted.
Female university students demonstrated for a second day running on Tuesday, their campus president said.
The protest, with 100 students at most, was "on a smaller scale" than Monday's rally when police lobbed tear gas into their Omdurman campus, Ahfad University for Women president Gasim Badri told AFP.
Senior members of the Sudanese Congress Party, a small opposition party with a base in universities, confirmed their president Ibrahim Elsheikh had been arrested on Tuesday.
Congress belongs to an opposition alliance seeking a peaceful end to Bashir's regime. The alliance said three officials of the Baath and Communist parties had also been rounded up on Tuesday.
Protesters have echoed calls for the downfall of the regime made by demonstrators during the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, which toppled longtime rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Bashir saluted "the role being played by the people to foil the conspiracies being planted by the saboteurs against our country," SUNA said.
On Monday Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed blamed "overseas foundations" for supporting unrest last week.
The government says it has arrested hundreds of "criminals" and had to intervene last week when crowds turned violent, attacking petrol stations and police facilities.
But Ahmad Omer, 44, said one of his relatives -- shot dead during a demonstration -- was not the type to destroy public property.
"I believe the people have the right to demonstrate. Why did the government shoot them? Or if the government didn't shoot them, it has to bring to justice those responsible," said the Omdurman resident.