One Dead As Sudan Protesters Rally Outside Army Hq For First Time
One Sudanese protester died as thousands of demonstrators marched in Khartoum Saturday, many reaching the army headquarters for the first time since the deadly protests against President Omar al-Bashir erupted in December.
Chanting "one army, one people," the protesters rallied in the capital's streets following a call by organisers to march on the compound, which also houses Bashir's residence and the defence ministry.
Organisers said earlier this week that demonstrators would gather to demand the army either "take the side of the people or the dictator's".
The crowds chanted the movement's catchcry "peace, justice, freedom", onlookers said.
"We still haven't achieved our goal, but we have delivered our message to the army and that is: come join us," protester Amir Omer told AFP.
"They were calling on Bashir to step down," another witness added.
Fellow protester Adam Yagub, 40, said Bashir had "ruined the country's economy so much that people are dying even due to shortage of medicines".
Police said a protester had 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.
It means the death toll in protest-related violence since December has now risen to 32, according to officials.
Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51 including children and medics.
Soon after reaching the army compound, organisers called on the protesters to stand firm outside its fortified walls.
"At this historic moment, we ask you to not leave the army headquarters and hold a sit-in in the nearby streets," the organisers said in a statement.
Since the start of the protests, security agents and riot police have cracked down on demonstrators but the army has not intervened.
After a few hours, dozens of vehicles full of riot police converged near the compound and fired tear gas at protesters in a bid to disperse them, witnesses said, adding that some demonstrators threw rocks at the police officers.
Late on Saturday crowds of protesters remained outside the complex, some singing and dancing.
"We will not leave this place until Bashir steps down," one protester said on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses said that many demonstrators who grew tired were being replaced by newcomers, including families.
'Further pressure on Bashir'
In a separate demonstration Saturday, protesters reached the army office in the town of Madani southeast of the capital, witnesses told AFP by telephone.
"Today's turnout has been impressive," said a European diplomat on condition of anonymity.
"It puts further pressure on Bashir and the regime and shows that the protest movement is not dying out."
Protests have rocked the east African country since December 19, with angry crowds accusing Bashir's government of mismanaging the economy, leading to soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.
They first erupted after a government decision to triple the price of bread but quickly escalated into nationwide rallies against Bashir's rule.
On February 22, the veteran leader imposed a nationwide state of emergency to quell the protests after an initial crackdown failed to rein in the rallies.
Since emergency rule came into effect, the demonstrations have been largely confined to the capital and its twin city of Omdurman.
Call for dialogue
April 6 was chosen for the nationwide rallies as it marked the 1985 uprising that toppled the then regime of president Jaafar Nimeiri.
"Although the opposition chose this symbolic date of April 6, the government security forces treated the citizens respectfully," government spokesman Hassan Ismail said in a statement.
"The government is committed to holding a dialogue because there's no other alternative."
Before the protests began, security forces deployed in large numbers in key Khartoum squares and in Omdurman, across the Nile.
Security agents were preventing passers-by from reaching downtown areas of Khartoum and ordered shops and markets in the area to close, witnesses said.
Analysts say the movement has emerged as the biggest challenge yet to Bashir's three-decade rule.
Bashir, wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide in conflict-wracked region of Darfur, swept to power in an Islamist-backd coup in 1989.
The veteran leader has remained defiant, introducing tough measures that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.