KHARTOUM – Thousands of people have marched in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, with many reaching the army headquarters for the first time since deadly demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir erupted last year, according to reports.
The protests began in December as a movement reacting to spiraling prices and a failing economy but quickly escalated into demands for Bashir’s departure after three decades in power.
Chanting “One Army, One People,” the protesters on Saturday heeded a call by organisers to march on the army headquarters, located near Bashir’s residence.
Witnesses told Reuters news agency that security forces were using tear gas to try to disperse the demonstrators. Some protesters were reportedly arrested.
The large crowds chanted the slogan of the movement “peace, justice, freedom”, as they marched through the streets of Khartoum and reached the army building, which is also the defence ministry, according to onlookers.
On February 22, Bashir imposed a nationwide state of emergency after an initial crackdown failed to rein in demonstrators.
Since the emergency rule came into effect, protests have been largely confined to the capital and its twin city of Omdurman.
But organisers called for widespread rallies and a march on the army headquarters on Saturday, the 34th anniversary of the 1985 uprisings that toppled the then-government of President Jaafar Nimeiri.
The military removed Nimeiri before handing power over to an elected government, which in turn lost power to Bashir in a coup.
Before the demonstrations began, security forces deployed in large numbers in key Khartoum squares and in Omdurman, across the Nile.
“There’s a heavy security deployment where the protesters were to gather for the march, but they still came out and are chanting anti-government slogans,” a witness told AFP without revealing his name for security reasons.
Witnesses said plainclothes security agents were preventing even passers-by from reaching central areas.
Shops and markets in central Khartoum were ordered shut before the march by security agents, according to onlookers.
“Those walking in groups were immediately detained or asked to return to their homes by security forces,” another onlooker said.
In recent days, activists have been circulating leaflets urging residents to participate in Saturday’s march, several residents said.
The protest movement was initially led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of independent professional unions, that has called for fresh protests in the lead up to the march.
Several political parties, including the main opposition National Umma Party, have also thrown their support behind the protest movement.
Analysts say the movement has emerged as the biggest challenge yet to Bashir’s rule.
The veteran leader has remained defiant however, and has introduced tough measures that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence so far, but Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51, including children and medics.