Teargas used on Sudanese protesters

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Sudanese security forces fired tear gas at people trying to march to President Omar al-Bashir’s Nile-side palace to protest soaring prices and demand he step down.

Officers made dozens of arrests as others looked on from rooftops and armoured vehicles with machine guns in surrounding streets. Some in the crowd chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime,” a slogan widely used during the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings that shook countries across the region.

A stony-faced Bashir later appeared on national television, acknowledging the country was facing challenges and promising to address them – but stopped short of referring to the unrest.

“Our country is going through difficult economic circumstances that have hurt a large sector in our society due to internal and external causes you know,” the 74-year-old leader said.

“We are confident we are close to overcoming this difficult and temporary period,” he added in the address, made on the eve of Independence Day celebrations.

The main rally broke up into smaller demonstrations across the downtown area. Later police fired teargas at around 200 people in the city’s northern al-Shambat district, witnesses said.

Anger over rising prices, shortages of commodities and a cash crisis fuelled protests across Sudan over the past two weeks. According to official figures, 19 people including two military personnel died though Amnesty International has said the number may be almost double that.

Activists and rights groups accuse Bashir and his security services of using excessive violence. Interior Minister Ahmed Bilal Othman said Monday’s demonstrations were “limited” and handled “in accordance with the law”.

“While the demonstrations about fuel and bread shortages can be justified, there are entities trying to use them for chaos … We see protests are retreating,” he told Reuters.

He said 125 policemen were injured since unrest began.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

“The opposition’s main demand presently is the complete change of the regime and creation of an interim government that achieves political and economic stability in Sudan,” said Ibrahim al-Lameen, vice-president of the opposition Umma Party.

Zeinab al-Mahdi, the daughter of Umma Party chairman Sadiq al-Mahdi, was among protesters detained on Monday, a family member said.

Authorities shut schools, declared states of emergency in several regions and detained some senior opposition figures since protests started in Atbara on December 19.

Security forces repeatedly used tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition against demonstrations, witnesses say.

Sudan has been gripped by a deep economic crisis that began in 2011 after the southern half of the country voted to secede, taking with it three-quarters of the country’s oil output.

Opposition groups accuse Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since 1989, of mismanaging the economy and squandering resources. A series of measures, including a sharp devaluation of the Sudanese pound in October, failed to provide relief.

Members of parliament in December backed a constitutional amendment to extend term limits that required Bashir to step down in 2020.

“We are committed to holding free and fair elections in 2020 and we ask all political powers prepare to participate,” Bashir said.