Sudanese flood Khartoum streets, demanding the president steps down
President Omar Al Bashir has tried placate the protesters, promising better days ahead
Thousands took to the streets in the Sudanese capital on Sunday to call for President Omar Al Bashir to step down, the latest in nearly three weeks of demonstrations against his 29-year autocratic rule.
Protesters gathered at several points across Khartoum before they began to march on the presidential palace in the city centre. They chanted: "Freedom, peace and justice; Revolution is the people's choice"
Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, who would regroup and resume the march only to be attacked by tear gas again.
“We were about 100 people, many of us were journalists; we started cheering and marching from Al Said Abdulrahman street. Police came and tear-gassed us, we ran in different directions," a female protester said. "When I heard gunfire I froze; but my friend pulled me out of there.”
Activists said police blocked a bridge over the Nile that links Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman to the capital's centre in a bid to prevent protesters from joining forces. They said unusually large numbers of police and plainclothes security men were deployed across Khartoum in anticipation of Sunday's protests, which began at 1pm.
The protests continued late into the evening in the Burry neighbourhood, despite protesters there facing the strongest police action, according to witnesses.
Two previous attempts to march on the palace were thwarted by security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition. At least 40 people have been killed since the protests began on December 19 over high bread prices and quickly spread into nationwide demonstrations calling for the government to step down.
“The way authorities handled the protests was very wrong, the protests are peaceful and people have legitimate demands," a government official told The National. "They should let them reach the presidential palace and deliver the memo and even broadcast the event in the media to show that the country is democratic and free instead of the bad image authorities are reflecting now by suppressing the protesters.
"Killing unarmed citizens and facing peaceful protesters with violence is not acceptable. The government should act differently in order not to lose the nation completely."
Earlier on Sunday, police arrested at least five Khartoum university lecturers after they staged a brief protest on campus in solidarity with the demonstrators. Authorities have detained scores of activists and opposition leaders during the last two weeks.
There were also large protests on Sunday in the town of Wad Madani, south of Khartoum, where police also used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse protesters, and in Atbara, a railway city north of the capital where the protests began last month.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, one of the groups coordinating the anti-government demonstrations, declared Sunday's protests a success.
“The SPA has two objectives; to end this regime and to form a suitable democratic one, and the protests will continue until we achieve that,” Mohamed Alasbat, a spokesperson for the SPA based in France, said.
“SPA has social demands to deliver to the National Assembly regarding living situation of citizens and salaries,” said Mr Alasbat, referring to the march to the National Assembly in in Omdurman planned on Wednesday. “We will continue our efforts in co-operation with the opposition until the regime falls and a democratic replacement takes over”.
Mr Al Bashir, an Islamist, has been in power since he led a military coup 29 years ago. He has shown no signs that he might step down anytime soon and continues to blame the country's problems on international sanctions and plots against its Islamic "experience".
His rule has been defined by turmoil and conflict while the economy lurched from one crisis to another. The secession of the mostly animist and Christian south of the country in 2011 deprived Sudan of about three quarters of the country's oil wealth.
The 74-year-old leader has spoken in public on at least five occasions since the start of the protests. He has used his speaking engagements to try and placate the Sudanese, promising them better days ahead and seeking to justify the killing of protesters on religious grounds .
In addition to using violence to quash the protests, authorities have imposed emergency laws and nighttime curfews in some cities and suspended classes at schools and universities across much of Sudan. Internet sites have also been blocked and journalists are barred from covering the protests on the streets.
Updated: January 7, 2019 09:09 AM