KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of people trying to march to President Omar al-Bashir’s Nile-side palace in Khartoum on Monday to protest against soaring prices and demand he step down.
Officers made dozens of arrests, others looked on from rooftops and armoured vehicles with machine guns parked up in surrounding streets.
Some in the crowd chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime,” a slogan widely used during the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings that unseated leaders across the Muslim world.
Anger over rising prices, shortages of basic commodities and a cash crisis has fuelled demonstrations across Sudan over the past two weeks. Opposition figures and some unions called for a mass march in the capital on Monday, the eve of Sudan’s Independence Day celebrations.
Activists and rights groups have accused Bashir and his security services of using excessive violence. But Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman said Monday’s protests were “limited” and were handled “in accordance with the law”.
“While the demonstrations about fuel and bread shortages can be justified, there are entities trying to use them for chaos … We see that protests are retreating,” he told Reuters.
In Khartoum on Monday, the main rally broke into smaller demonstrations downtown, witnesses said.
“The opposition’s main demand at this stage is the complete change of the regime and the creation of an interim government that achieves political and economic stability in Sudan,” said Ibrahim al-Lameen, vice-president of the opposition Umma Party.
“We reject the excessive use of force and the killing of protesters. These policies … have failed completely to contain public discontent,” he told Reuters by phone.
Authorities have shut schools, declared states of emergency in several regions, and detained some senior opposition figures since protests first broke out in the northeastern city of Atbara on Dec. 19.
Security forces have repeatedly used tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition against demonstrations, witnesses say.
According to official figures, at least 19 people have been killed, including two military personnel – Amnesty International last week said it estimated the death toll was nearly double that. The interior minister told Reuters that 125 policemen had also been injured since the unrest began.
Sudan has been gripped by a deep economic crisis that began in 2011 after the southern half of the country voted to secede, taking with it three-quarters of the country’s oil output.
Opposition groups have accused Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since 1989, of mismanaging the economy and squandering resources. A series of measures, including a sharp devaluation of the Sudanese pound in October, have failed to provide immediate relief.
As protests resumed on Monday, several lawyers on strike outside courthouses in Khartoum and in Sudan’s second-largest city Wad Madani were arrested, one of the lawyers said.
Zeinab al-Mahdi, the daughter of Umma Party Chairman Sadiq al-Mahdi, was among the protesters detained downtown on Monday, a family member said.
Bashir is expected to deliver a nationwide speech later on Monday in the build-up to Independence Day on Jan. 1.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Andrew Heavens)