BFF-04 One dead as Sudan protesters rally outside army HQ for first time

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SUDAN-UNREST-DEMONSTRATIONS

One dead as Sudan protesters rally outside army HQ for first time

KHARTOUM, April 7, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – One Sudanese protester died as
thousands of demonstrators marched in Khartoum Saturday, many reaching the
army headquarters for the first time since the deadly protests against
President Omar al-Bashir erupted in December.

Chanting “one army, one people,” the protesters rallied in the capital’s
streets following a call by organisers to march on the compound, which also
houses Bashir’s residence and the defence ministry.

Organisers said earlier this week that demonstrators would gather to demand
the army either “take the side of the people or the dictator’s”.

The crowds chanted the movement’s catchcry “peace, justice, freedom”,
onlookers said.

“We still haven’t achieved our goal, but we have delivered our message to
the army and that is: come join us,” protester Amir Omer told AFP.

“They were calling on Bashir to step down,” another witness added.

Fellow protester Adam Yagub, 40, said Bashir had “ruined the country’s
economy so much that people are dying even due to shortage of medicines”.

Police said a protester had died in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman.

“There were illegal gatherings in Khartoum and other states,” police
spokesman General Hashim Abdelrahim told the official SUNA news agency.

“Police have recorded the death of one person during disturbances in
Omdurman.”

A committee of doctors that helped organise the protests confirmed that the
“martyr” was a medic.

It means the death toll in protest-related violence since December has now
risen to 32, according to officials.

Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51 including children and
medics.

– ‘Historic moment’ –

Soon after reaching the army compound, organisers called on the protesters
to stand firm outside its fortified walls.

“At this historic moment, we ask you to not leave the army headquarters and
hold a sit-in in the nearby streets,” the organisers said in a statement.

Since the start of the protests, security agents and riot police have
cracked down on demonstrators but the army has not intervened.

After a few hours, dozens of vehicles full of riot police converged near
the compound and fired tear gas at protesters in a bid to disperse them,
witnesses said, adding that some demonstrators threw rocks at the police
officers.

Late on Saturday crowds of protesters remained outside the complex, some
singing and dancing.

“We will not leave this place until Bashir steps down,” one protester said
on condition of anonymity.

Witnesses said that many demonstrators who grew tired were being replaced
by newcomers, including families.

– ‘Further pressure on Bashir’ –

In a separate demonstration Saturday, protesters reached the army office in
the town of Madani southeast of the capital, witnesses told AFP by telephone.

“Today’s turnout has been impressive,” said a European diplomat on
condition of anonymity.

“It puts further pressure on Bashir and the regime and shows that the
protest movement is not dying out.”

Protests have rocked the east African country since December 19, with angry
crowds accusing Bashir’s government of mismanaging the economy, leading to
soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.

They first erupted after a government decision to triple the price of bread
but quickly escalated into nationwide rallies against Bashir’s rule.

On February 22, the veteran leader imposed a nationwide state of emergency
to quell the protests after an initial crackdown failed to rein in the
rallies.

Since emergency rule came into effect, the demonstrations have been largely
confined to the capital and its twin city of Omdurman.

– Call for dialogue –

April 6 was chosen for the nationwide rallies as it marked the 1985
uprising that toppled the then regime of president Jaafar Nimeiri.

“Although the opposition chose this symbolic date of April 6, the
government security forces treated the citizens respectfully,” government
spokesman Hassan Ismail said in a statement.

“The government is committed to holding a dialogue because there’s no other
alternative.”

Before the protests began, security forces deployed in large numbers in key
Khartoum squares and in Omdurman, across the Nile.

Security agents were preventing passers-by from reaching downtown areas of
Khartoum and ordered shops and markets in the area to close, witnesses said.

Analysts say the movement has emerged as the biggest challenge yet to
Bashir’s three-decade rule.

Bashir, wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court for alleged
war crimes and genocide in conflict-wracked region of Darfur, swept to power
in an Islamist-backd coup in 1989.

The veteran leader has remained defiant, introducing tough measures that
have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists arrested.

BSS/AFP/GMR/0825 hrs