World / Politics

Sudan protest death toll at least 26 after doctor and child killed as police break up march

AFP-JIJI

A doctor and a child were killed Thursday during protests in Sudan’s capital, organizers of the anti-government demonstrations said, as police dispersed a crowd of hundreds marching towards the presidential palace.

At least 26 people have died in protests that have rocked Sudan since they first erupted on Dec. 19 after a government decision to raise the price of bread.

The rallies have since escalated into broader demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir’s three decades of iron-fisted rule and triggered deadly clashes with the security forces.

Human rights groups have given a higher death toll, with Amnesty International saying that more than 40 people had been killed and over 1,000 arrested.

“One doctor and a child (have been) killed in today’s demonstrations,” the doctors’ committee, part of a protest movement spearheaded by the Sudanese Professionals Association, said in a statement late on Thursday.

The committee said the two were killed with “live ammunition” but did not specify who had fired the shots.

It also said that some other people had sustained gunshot wounds.

The deaths were confirmed to AFP by the relatives of the two victims.

Protesters staged a demonstration outside the hospital in Khartoum where their bodies were brought, witnesses said.

A police spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment.

Earlier, demonstrators chanting “freedom, peace, justice” had gathered in central Khartoum and began their march on the presidential palace but riot police quickly confronted them with tear gas, witnesses told AFP.

People also took to the streets in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, in the provincial town of Gadaref and in the agricultural hub of Atbara, where the first protests broke out on Dec. 19.

After riot police broke up the march in downtown Khartoum, crowds of residents in the capital’s Buri district staged a new rally, witnesses said.

Protesters pelted rocks at riot police who in turn fired tear gas.

Video footage showed some protesters wounded but they were treated by fellow demonstrators.

People also took to the streets in the Khartoum’s northern district of Bahri, where burned tires and piles of garbage blocked streets to traffic, witnesses said.

Three other protests were staged in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.

The Sudanese Professionals Association said the response to Thursday’s call for protests had been “above expectations.”

“We are calling on the international community to protect peaceful demonstrators as we fear the authorities will use more violence,” Mohamed Al-Asbat, a spokesman for the association told AFP by telephone from Paris.

Al-Bashir has blamed the violence during the demonstrations on “conspirators” working against the interests of the country, without identifying them.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday condemned Sudan’s “repressive response” to the anti-government demonstrations.

“I am very concerned about reports of excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by Sudanese state security forces during large-scale demonstrations in various parts of the country since 19 December,” she said in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council too called on Sudan to respect the rights of protesters and investigate the violence.

“We are appalled at reports that security forces have used tear gas and violence within hospitals against those being treated and against doctors providing medical assistance,” said British Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen on Thursday.

Sudan’s ambassador, Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed, told the council that his government was “fully committed to giving citizens a space to peacefully express their views.”

But he said the authorities would act to “protect lives and public property against sabotage and arson and all other forms of violence perpetrated by some demonstrators.”

More than 1,000 people including protesters, journalists, opposition leaders and activists have been arrested in a sweeping crackdown by security agents since the protests erupted.

Despite the tough response, the protest movement has grown to become the biggest threat to al-Bashir’s rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989.

The protesters accuse al-Bashir’s government of mismanagement of key sectors of the economy and of pouring funds into a military response Sudan can ill afford to rebellions in the western region of Darfur and in areas near the border with South Sudan.

Sudan has suffered from a chronic shortage of foreign currency since the south broke away in 2011, taking with it the lion’s share of oil revenues.

That has triggered soaring inflation that has seen the cost of food and medicines more than double, and frequent shortages in major cities, including Khartoum.

A defiant al-Bashir has dismissed calls for his resignation but acknowledged the country faces economic problems for which a slew of reforms were being planned.