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Four Sudanese killed as dozens of cities hold protests against president

People in at least 40 cities and villages across Sudan protested on Thursday against Omar al-Bashir's three-decade rule
Rising cost of living in Sudan triggered nationwide protests against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir (AFP)

KHARTOUM - Four Sudanese men have been killed as the country saw its most widespread protests on Thursday during more than a month of continued unrest.

The Sudanese Doctors' Committee said medical student Mahjoub al-Taj Majhoub died "after being subjected to beating and torture" while in police custody. 

University student Abd al-Azeem Babikir, 22, was killed "after a bullet hit him directly in the chest", the committee said in a statement.

The government confirmed on Thursday that a 24-year-old man died from his wounds in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, while a fourth victim, the son of a well-known footballer, had been at a protest at a private university in the capital.

The deaths take the official number of protesters killed since anti-government rallies first broke out last month to 30 - though human rights groups say more than 40 have been killed.

Live feeds from various Sudanese cities broadcast images online throughout the day on Thursday. Some of the videos displayed large crowds, while others showed protesters bleeding from what they said were bullet wounds.

According to the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has organised regular protests, demonstrations were held in more than 40 areas across Sudan on Thursday. 

Sudanese protesters help bleeding protester after he says he was hit by a bullet

A military source told MEE on condition of anonymity that a member of the intelligence agencies was killed overnight Wednesday. 

An eyewitness in Port Sudan, Ali Abdo, told MEE that the army expelled the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) forces, which have been widely used to crack down on protesters, from the city.

"Now the army is in full control of the city and the security organs have disappeared from the city," he said.

Sudanese school girls join an anti-government protest in Khartoum's twin city Omdurman on the west bank of the Nile river on January 24, 2019 (AFP)
An activist from the city, who did not want to be named in fear of reprisals, told MEE they believed a disagreement occurred between the army and the NISS because the army previously protected some protesters.

"What happened is a small coup against the control of the security organs [NISS]. Now the army has shown its strength and that's a serious sign if it is to be replicated in other parts of the country," the activist said. 

Police said on Thursday that commanders from both groups later stopped the fighting and the situation was "under control".

However, another eyewitness in the capital Khartoum said there had also been disagreements between the police and NISS forces in the flashpoint neighbourhood of Burri.

“The police have made a cordon around the area, preventing the security services from entering the houses,” the witness said.

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Three people, including a doctor, were killed in Burri last week, prompting thousands to attend their funerals last Friday. 

The demonstrations across Sudan, while initially fuelled by anger over a hike in living costs, quickly morphed into protests against the government and are seen as the biggest threat to President Omar al-Bashir's rule since he took power in a 1989 coup.

Protesters have staged daily demonstrations in Khartoum and the capital's twin city of Omdurman, on the west bank of the Nile river.

The SPA had called for nationwide rallies on Thursday.

"We are calling our people to gather at 17 places in Khartoum and Omdurman and march towards the presidential palace," the association said in a statement.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters began demonstrating in Burri, only to be confronted by riot police with tear gas, witnesses said.

"Let's die like martyrs or fight for their rights," shouted men and women as they took to the streets in Khartoum, witnesses said.

Riot police also fired tear gas at protesters in Omdurman, and rallies reported in the state of Gezira, the Red Sea town of Port Sudan and a village in North State, witnesses said.

Economic crisis

Several previous attempted marches on the presidential palace have been broken up by riot police firing tear gas.

Several business outlets in Khartoum ordered their employees to leave before the protests began, while many schools saw few children attending classes.

Protests have also been called on Thursday in other towns and cities, said the SPA, an umbrella group of unions representing doctors, teachers and engineers.

The hike in the price of bread brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns on 19 December.

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The protests then rapidly spread to the capital Khartoum and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.

The demonstrations come with Sudan battling an economic crisis driven by soaring inflation and a shortage of foreign currency.

Bashir, 75, has remained defiant and rejected the calls to step down. He has blamed the violence on "infiltrators" among the protesters.

The veteran leader has accused the United States of causing Sudan's economic woes, but his words have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

The United States imposed a trade embargo on Sudan in 1997, and it was lifted only in October 2017.

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