Thousands clash with security forces in Sudan anti-government protests

Thousands clash with security forces in Sudan anti-government protests
One dead as crowds call for end of president Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rulein capital Khartoum and Omdurman

Thousands of protesters have clashed with security forces in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in a huge demonstration against president Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, witnesses said.

Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators gathered outside the presidential residence on Saturday in one of the biggest protests against Bashir in months of unrest.

They waved Sudanese flags and chanted slogans demanding “freedom, peace and justice” as they gathered outside the gates of the compound, guarded by soldiers, that also houses the defence ministry, army command and security headquarters.

By the evening, the clashes subsided as security forces pulled back, allowing the thousands still gathered to remain outside the compound. Witnesses said young demonstrators sang nationalist songs and danced for joy. Some said they would stay until Bashir stepped down.

There were no reports of casualties in the clashes in Khartoum but one protester died in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman.

“There were illegal gatherings in Khartoum and other states,” police spokesman General Hashim Abdelrahim told the official SUNA news agency.

“Police have recorded the death of one person during disturbances in Omdurman.”

A committee of doctors that helped organise the protests confirmed that the “martyr” was a medic.

Information minister Hassan Ismail, who also serves as the government spokesman, praised security forces for the manner they handled the protests and said the government remained committed to dialogue to resolve the crisis.

“The approach followed by government apparatus was met with satisfaction from citizens,” Ismail said in a statement. “Sudanese blood is the most precious thing we need to preserve”.

Bashir has refused to step down, saying his opponents need to seek power through the ballot box.

“Today, we won and we are confident that the regime will fall,” said Mohamed Saleh, a 63-year-old university professor who estimated the crowd to be at more than 100,000 people.

The Sudanese Professionals Association has spearheaded calls for an end to Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule soon after protests began on 19 December over surging prices and a failing economy.

The opposition Umma party said security forces arrested four of its leaders ahead of planned marches in the province of Sennar, about 225 miles (360km) east of Khartoum.

Security forces have responded to the protest movement with a fierce crackdown, killing at least 60 people, according to Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based rights group.

The government has said 31 people have been killed, but has not updated its tally in weeks.

The marches on Saturday marked the 34th anniversary of the overthrow of the former president Jaafar Nimeiri in a bloodless coup.

The military removed Nimeiri after a popular uprising. It quickly handed over power to an elected government. The dysfunctional administration lasted only a few years until al-Bashir – a career army officer – allied with Islamist hardliners and toppled it in a coup in 1989.