Riot police fired tear gas and civilians armed with machetes and swords attacked protesters during five days of demonstrations sweeping Khartoum demanding ouster of Sudan's autocratic ruler, a Sudanese opposition leader said Thursday.
Saata Ahmed al-Haj, head of the opposition Sudanese Commission for Defense of Freedoms and Rights, said that hundreds of protesters have been detained over the past five days. He said they were later released but were badly mistreated.
Haj said security forces shaved off the protesters' hair, stripped them naked, flogged them and then left them outside in the scorching sun for hours.
"I am under house arrest along with several opposition members, and security forces are encircling the place," he told The Associated Press over the phone. "Our 'offense' is we are searching for freedom, and this is a crime in Sudan," he said.
"This is the outcome of political, economic and military suffocation felt by people here," Haj said.
A government austerity plan slashing subsidies and doubling price of fuel and food set off the protests. President Omar al-Bashir has said the measures are necessary to pay for his country's conflict with South Sudan and to replace Sudan's oil revenues. He said Sudan no longer exports oil.
The demonstrations started on Saturday night at the University of Khartoum. Students protesting transportation fare hikes took to the streets outside the downtown campus, where security forces fired tear gas and rounded up dozens of them.
Since then, Khartoum has been the scene of daily protests, spilling out to different areas of the capital.
Echoing calls heard in Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, protesters chanted, "The people demand to bring down the regime."