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 protest against his 30-year rule, witnesses said.
Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators and tried to disperse the crowd, which 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, that also houses the defense ministry, army command and security headquarters, and where army soldiers stood guard.
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 say the armed forces had in the past sided with popular protests against autocratic rulers, including their 1985 move against long-serving autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri.
“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.
A witness said the protest appeared to be larger than previous ones.
“There are crowds as far as the eye can see,” he said.
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 protests to mark the anniversary of the 1985 coup that forced Nimeiri to step down following mass protests against his rule.
A witness said that after security forces, consisting of riot police and secret service personnel, had boxed in the demonstrators outside Bashir’s residence, they began showering the crowds with tear gas.
While some demonstrators fled, security forces using pickup trucks, advanced toward the remaining demonstrators trying to chase them away. The protesters responded by hurling stones toward security forces.
A witness described clouds of tear gas covering the area, while the streets were strewn with stones. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The clashes subsequently died down and thousands of demonstrators were still outside the compound.
Nimeiri’s downfall paved the way for national elections and a civilian government which Bashir ousted in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989. Bashir had since run and was elected president in repeated elections which his critics say were neither fair nor free.
Representing the most sustained challenge to Bashir since he took power in 1989, the wave of protests that began on Dec. 19 were triggered by price rises and cash shortages but evolved into demonstrations against his long rule.
In February, Bashir declared a state of emergency in the country of 40 million, sacked his government and state governors in a series of moves aimed at tightening his control over the country.
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 committing any war crimes had been committed.