Khartoum, Sudan | AFP | Sudanese police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters in the capital and its twin city of Omdurman Tuesday as demonstrators staged night-time rallies against the government.
The after-dark demonstrations were the latest in more than a month of escalating protests against President Omar al-Bashir’s three-decade rule.
The veteran leader, who has made defiant appearances at loyalist rallies in Khartoum and other cities, arrived in Qatar on Tuesday for a two-day visit to discuss “bilateral relations” with his longstanding Gulf Arab ally.
Bashir is also expected to discuss “efforts to achieve peace in Darfur,” state media reported, referring to the western region of Sudan that has been ravaged by a conflict between Sudanese forces and ethnic minority rebels.
Days before the protests erupted on December 19, Bashir met his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, becoming the first Arab leader to visit Syria since a brutal conflict broke out there.
Chanting “people want a new Sudan,” hundreds of protesters demonstrated in the capital’s northern district of Bahari as darkness fell but riot police quickly confronted them with tear gas, witnesses said.
“There’s heavy firing of tear gas and there’s smoke everywhere,” a demonstrator said without revealing his identity for security reasons.
“Many protesters are coughing, but some are picking up tear gas canisters and throwing them back at the police.”
Earlier on Tuesday, demonstrators had staged a separate rally in Omdurman, across the Nile, witnesses said, adding it was also dispersed with tear gas.
Shouting “overthrow, overthrow” and “freedom, peace and justice,” the catchword slogans of the protest movement, the demonstrators in Omdurman had gathered near the home of a dead protester, witnesses said, adding that rallies were also staged in the city as darkness fell.
– More rallies called –
The doctors’ branch of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association said the protester had died on Monday, four days after being wounded when demonstrators clashed with security forces in Khartoum.
The SPA, an umbrella group of unions representing teachers, engineers and doctors, has taken the lead in organising the protests after hundreds of opposition activists were detained, and its doctors’ branch has taken casualties.
It had called for night-time rallies on Tuesday, as well as demonstrations across “all towns and cities” on Thursday.
Human rights groups say several medics have been among more than 40 people killed in clashes with the security forces since the protests erupted on December 19.
The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the ranks of the protesters.
The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s iron-fisted rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.
Triggered by the government’s tripling of the price of bread, which brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns, the protests rapidly spread to the metropolis and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.
The breakaway of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the government of most of its oil revenues and a chronic shortage of foreign currency has stoked spiralling inflation and widespread shortages.
Experts say cash injections from the Gulf states, led by Qatar, have helped stave off economic collapse in the past few years.
Bashir survived protest movements in September 2013 and January last year.
But his efforts to blame the United States for Sudan’s economic woes have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.
Washington had imposed a trade embargo on Sudan in 1997, and it was lifted only in October 2017.