Thousands of protesters packed the streets of a city south-east of Khartoum yesterday to honour those killed in anti-government demonstrations and call on long-time leader Omar Al Bashir to step down.
The“martyrs’ rally” in Gadaref was the latest in weeks of anti-government protests that have rocked Sudan since December 19, when turmoil erupted over a government decision to raise bread prices.
Demonstrations started after Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman, told parliament that 19 people had been killed in the protests, including two members of the security forces.
Human Rights Watch yesterday said at least 40 people died. Amnesty International put the death toll at 37.
Mr Othman also said that police had arrested 816 people in nearly three weeks of demonstrations, the first official figure to be announced since the protests began.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, a group of teachers, doctors and engineers that led the anti-government demonstrations, called for more protests today.
“I expect a lot of people to participate in protests, due to the support the SPA has been receiving from the people and political parties,” said Faisal Awad, a protester in Khartoum.
“I expect the police will go out in large numbers, but we are sending a message that we will not stop until this regime falls.”
Sudanese flood Khartoum streets, demanding the president steps down
[ Sudanese lose hope for justice for shot and detained protesters ]
Persistent protests testify to deep-rooted anger in Sudan
Youssef Hussain, a member of the Sudanese Communist Party, said that although protests originally started because of economic conditions, they had shifted to demand the overthrow of the government.
“For 30 years people have wondered how a country so rich in resources could be so poor that people can’t find bread to eat,” Mr Hussain said.
He said that yesterday’s demonstrations showed that opposition political parties and the people are on the same side, debunking attempts by the government to cast protesters as fractured and divided.
Faisal Salih, a journalist, said demonstrations had defied expectations by running for such a long time.
“The protests are growing and spreading,” Salih said.
“People may or may not succeed in achieving their aims but the balance of power has shifted, and that’s the biggest achievement.”
Meanwhile, pro-Bashir political parties were preparing for a rival demonstration in Khartoum today.
Mr Salih said the government is gathering big crowds from allied political parties as well as people brought from outside the capital.
The first demonstration backing Mr Bashir was held in the eastern city of Kassala on Monday.
Hundreds of people from Kassala and neighbouring towns and villages gathered in front of the local governorate to express their support for the president.
Ali Osman, former Vice President and a member of Mr Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party, said on Monday that anti-Bashir demonstrations would not shake the government.
“This is a temporary issue and the government is solving the problems,” he said. “Some thought these protests will be the end of the NCP government but they won’t. This regime will not last forever, but it will not be changed by force.”
Mr Al Bashir has been in power since he led a military coup 29 years ago. He has shown no signs that he might step down anytime soon and continues to blame the country's problems on international sanctions and plots against its Islamic "experience".
His rule has been defined by turmoil and conflict while the economy lurched from one crisis to another. The secession of the mostly animist and Christian south of the country in 2011 deprived Sudan of about three-quarters of the country's oil wealth.
Mr Al Bashir, 74, has spoken in public on at least five occasions since the start of the protests. He has used his speaking engagements to try and placate the Sudanese public, promising them better days ahead and seeking to justify the killing of protesters on religious grounds.