KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Thousands of Sudanese protesters clashed with security forces outside President Omar al-Bashir’s residence in central Khartoum on Saturday in what appeared to be the biggest demonstration in months of protests against his 30-year rule, witnesses said.
Across the River Nile in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, which also saw protests into the evening, one civilian died from injuries sustained during “rioting” and other civilians and police officers were wounded, state news agency SUNA said, citing police reports.
The victim was a laboratory doctor, according to a statement from an opposition doctors’ committee. Medical staff have played a prominent role in the protests, in which dozens of people have been killed over the past three-and-a-half months.
Security forces fired tear gas at protesters in Omdurman and at stone-throwing demonstrators near Bashir’s residence, who had responded to a call by activists trying to increase pressure on Bashir to step down.
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 defense 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.
Information Minister Hassan Ismail, who also serves as the government spokesman, praised security forces for the way 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.
An independent estimate for the number of protesters was not immediately available. But witnesses said the protest appeared to be larger than previous ones.
“There are crowds as far as the eye can see,” one witness told Reuters.
Sudanese activists, apparently emboldened by the success of similar but much larger protests in Algeria that forced ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, called Saturday’s demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the 1985 coup that forced then President Jaafar Nimeiri to step down following mass protests against his rule.
The demonstrators said they wanted to deliver a message to the country’s armed forces to side with them in trying to push Bashir out of power.
Sudanese activists say the armed forces had in the past backed popular protests against autocratic rulers, including their move against Nimeiri 34 years ago.
Nimeiri’s downfall paved the way for national elections and a civilian government that Bashir ousted in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989. Bashir was since elected president in elections his critics say were neither fair nor free.
The wave of protests that began on Dec. 19 were triggered by price rises and cash shortages but have become the most sustained challenge to his long rule.
In February, Bashir declared a state of emergency in the country of 40 million, and sacked his government and state governors.
Bashir is wanted by international prosecutors for alleged war crimes while trying to put down an armed uprising in the country’s western Darfur region since 2003. Sudan denies war crimes were committed.
Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Helen Popper, Alexandra Hudson and Daniel Wallis