CAIRO (AP) — Sudanese police on Monday used tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters shortly after they began to march toward the Nile-side presidential palace in Khartoum to press their demands for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, according to activists and video postings.
There were unconfirmed reports of protesters being shot by live ammunition.
Video clips posted online by activists show pools of blood outside a small eatery in the city center. Another one shows protesters carrying a man whose head and shirt are bloodied. Scores of demonstrators run away as the sound of gunfire is heard.
A female protester’s voice is heard urging others, “don’t run,” as those around her violently cough from the tear gas.
Before the clashes erupted, the demonstrators sang the national anthem, chanted “peaceful!” —as if to emphasize their non-violent protest — and “Oh, Sudan, we sacrifice our lives and blood for you.”
They also chanted, “the people want to bring down the regime,” which was the main slogan of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.
Earlier Monday, Human Rights Watch urged al-Bashir’s government to instruct security forces not to use lethal force against protesters, citing independent groups as saying 40 people have been killed since the protests erupted nearly two weeks ago.
The New York-based group said Sudanese forces have been using tear gas and live ammunition against protesters, as well as beating and arresting many. Scores have been injured and hundreds arrested, it said. Last week, the United States, Britain, Norway and Canada said in a joint statement that they have “reliable reports” that Sudan’s security forces were using live fire.
Monday’s demonstrations were called for by an umbrella of independent professional unions, which also urged Sudanese to take to the streets across the country.
Al-Bashir, an autocratic leader who has been in power since he led a 1989 military coup, vowed in a meeting with police commanders Sunday that his government would not tolerate any attempt to undermine the stability and security of Sudan, according to the state news agency. An Islamist, he also sought to justify the killing of protesters, quoting from Islam’s holy book, the Quran, according to a video clip of his comments.
“The objective is not to kill the protesters, but … to safeguard the security and stability of citizens,” he said.
“President al-Bashir appears to be making public speeches that justify excessive use of force instead of condemning this brutality,” said HRW’s Jehanne Henry. “With more protests planned, Sudanese authorities should send an unambiguous message to all security forces to respect the rights of protesters and not to use lethal force.”
Amnesty International has said it has “reliable reports” that 37 protesters were killed in the first five days of protests, which began on Dec. 19. The government has acknowledged 19 deaths.
Monday’s attempted march on al-Bashir’s palace is the second such attempt — thousands tried to reach the white neo-colonial building in central Khartoum last Tuesday, clashing with policemen who used tear gas and batons to disperse them.
Although the protesters never reached the palace, their action showed the depth of popular discontent with al-Bashir’s rule. Protesters numbering in the hundreds or very low thousands gathered in a dozen or so venues across the city Tuesday and fought pitched battles with police for hours before they dispersed after nightfall.
This time, the unions are urging protesters to stay on the streets until they usher in 2019 so that they can mark the anniversary of Sudan’s independence on Jan. 1, 1956.
Sudan’s economy has struggled for most of al-Bashir’s rule. He has also failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation, losing three quarters of Sudan’s oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum in which southerners voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence.
A year earlier, al-Bashir, now in his mid-70s, was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.