Sudan police fire tear gas as protesters press on with demos

Sudanese police fired tear gas Sunday at crowds of anti-government protesters in several cities including Khartoum, as organisers pushed for more nationwide rallies against president Omar al-Bashir this week.

Deadly protests have rocked Sudan since December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.

The protests have since swiftly escalated into nationwide rallies widely seen as the biggest threat to Mr Bashir’s rule in his three decades in power.

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Authorities say the protests have left 24 people dead so far, while Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 40, including children and medical staff.

On Sunday, protesters took to the streets in the capital’s Bahari district chanting “peace, peace” and “revolution is the people’s choice,” but they were quickly confronted by riot police, witnesses told AFP.

Witnesses said police pursued protesters down Bahari’s streets and alleys as they chanted “peace, justice, freedom”, which has become a key slogan in the rallies.

Women protesters, many wearing masks to protect themselves from tear gas, whistled and clapped as they marched in the streets of Bahari, the hub of Sunday’s demonstration.

Some residents in Bahari took protesters inside their homes and offered them juice as tear gas canisters struck the facades of their buildings, a witness said.

Later on Sunday, the Sudanese Professionals’ Association that is spearheading the rallies said “live ammunition” had been used during the demonstration in Bahari. It did not say who fired the gunshots.

“In spite of the violence of security forces, the clouds of tear gas and thunder of live ammunition, our people courageously took to the street,” said the association, comprising of unions of doctors, teachers and engineers.

A panel of doctors within the association said in a separate statement that eight people had been wounded in Khartoum rally including “two from live ammunition”. It also did not specify who had fired the gunshots.

Khartoum police could not be reached for comment.

Sudanese officials including Mr Bashir have blamed the violence during demonstrations on “thugs” and “conspirators”.

Protest organisers have called for near daily demonstrations across the country against Bashir this week, calling it a ‘Week of Uprising’.

Hours after police dispersed the rally in Bahari on Sunday, the smell of tear gas lingered across the neighbourhood, witnesses said.

Several streets remained blocked with burnt tyres and rocks thrown by protesters, a witness said, adding that riot police, some in vehicles loaded with machineguns, remained deployed in the area.

On Sunday, protests also broke out in the western war-torn region of Darfur.

Police fired tear gas at demonstrators who took to the streets of El-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state and in Niyala, the capital of South Darfur state, witnesses said.

Darfur, a region the size of France, has been torn by violence since 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum, accusing it of economic and political marginalisation.

Mr Bashir, who seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, has been charged by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) with genocide and war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur.

Protests were also reported in the central town of Madani and in some villages of the eastern impoverished, agricultural province of Gadaref.

Rights groups say more than 1,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, including opposition leaders, activists and journalists as well as demonstrators.

The crackdown has drawn international criticism, with countries like Britain, Norway, Canada and the United States warning Khartoum that its actions could “have an impact” on its relations with their governments.

Although the unrest was triggered by the rise in the price of bread, Sudan has faced a mounting economic crisis over the past year, led by an acute shortage of foreign currency.

Repeated shortages of food and fuel have been reported across cities, while the cost of food and medicine has more than doubled.

Mr Bashir and other officials have blamed Washington for Sudan’s economic woes.

The US imposed a trade embargo on Khartoum in 1997 that was lifted only in October 2017. It restricted Sudan from conducting international business and financial transactions.

But critics of Mr Bashir say his government’s mismanagement of key sectors and its huge spending on fighting ethnic minority rebellions in Darfur and areas near the South Sudan border have been stoking economic trouble for years.