KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese security forces fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who marched after noon prayers in the capital Khartoum on Friday as protests against President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year-old rule widened.
Anti-government protests first flared last month and have posed the most serious challenge yet to Bashir, a former army general who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in the Darfur region.
At least 22 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the protests, which were sparked by anger over rising food prices and cash shortages but quickly turned against Bashir’s government. The crackdown drew a rare rebuke from the state-funded human rights commission.
Friday’s protests appeared to have drawn more people than before and were more widespread. In previous weeks the protests began only after sundown.
Reuters witnesses said security forces used tear gas against dozens of demonstrators in al-Halfaya Bahri in the south of Khartoum and against a separate demonstration by dozens of people emerging from Sayed Abdel Rahman Mosque in Omdurman, which sits on the other side of the River Nile from the capital.
Security forces chased the demonstrators into side streets but there were no immediate reports of casualties, the witnesses said.
In Omdurman, army forces on mini-trucks with automatic guns were seen guarding a petrol station.
In a separate incident, witnesses said hundreds of demonstrators emerged from a mosque known to be affiliated to Bashir’s government in the Jabra district of southern Khartoum chanting: “The people want the fall of the regime.”
Footage posted on social media showed a stream of demonstrators pass by the mosque while chanting derogatory slogans against Bashir’s Islamist-based administration. The authenticity of the recording could not immediately be verified.
North of Khartoum, demonstrators blocked the main road linking the capital to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, witnesses said, without giving any further details.
Three demonstrators were killed during protests on Thursday and Amnesty International accused security forces of chasing injured victims into the Omdurman hospital.
Authorities said they had set up a commission to investigate the incident.
In a strongly-worded statement, Sudan’s National Commission for Human Rights slammed the attack on the Omdurman hospital and called for a swift investigation into the deaths of citizens.
“We look with great regret at the use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians...,” it said. “We also express deep concern over the use of tear gas within the confines of the Omdurman hospital which has led to harming the patients, those accompanying them and of health practitioners.”
Sudan’s economy was crippled when the south seceded in 2011, taking away much of its oil resources. The crisis has deepened since last year, when the country saw some brief protests over bread shortages.
The United States lifted 20-year-old trade sanctions on Sudan in October 2017, but many investors continue to shun a country still listed by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Bashir came to power in a 1989 coup and has won successive elections that his critics say were neither fair nor free.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; writing by Sami Aboudi, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones