Sudanese security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition at hundreds of demonstrators in central Khartoum on Monday as demonstrators attempted to march to President Omar al-Bashir’s palace calling on him to “step down”.
Crowds of men and women chanting “freedom, peace and justice” and “revolution is the people’s choice” gathered in the capital’s downtown area where they were quickly confronted by anti-riot police, witnesses told AFP.
Officers made dozens of arrests, as others looked on from rooftops and armoured vehicles with machine guns parked up in surrounding streets. Hundreds of policemen and security forces deployed to key squares across the capital in the early morning to prevent the march.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said: “Police have fired tear gas and live ammunition [during the protests]. Some [protesters] have been reportedly injured. It is not clear yet if there are fatalities.”
According to Sara Abdelgalil, President of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union in the UK, hospitals reported at least four protesters were wounded during the demonstrations.
“One fractured skull, one live bullet to the thigh, one in the neck and a burn in the neck from the teargas. There are also cases of acute asthma attacks and other minor injuries,” Abdelgalil told Al Jazeera.
Several lawyers on strike outside courthouses in Khartoum and in Sudan’s second-largest city Wad Madani were also arrested, one of the lawyers told Reuters news agency.
Anger over rising prices, shortages of basic commodities and a cash crisis has fueled demonstrations across Sudan over the past two weeks. The demonstrations quickly developed into growing anti-government rallies demanding that al-Bashir step down immediately.
Authorities have shut schools and declared states of emergency in several regions since protests first broke out in the northeastern city of Atbara on December 19. Security forces have repeatedly used tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition against demonstrations, witnesses say.
According to government estimates, at least 19 people, including two security personnel, were killed in clashes in the initial days of demonstrations. Amnesty International last week said it estimated the death toll to be at 37.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed “for calm and restraint” and called on “the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths and violence”.
Sudan is facing an acute foreign exchange crisis and soaring inflation despite Washington lifting an economic embargo in October 2017.
Inflation is running at 70 percent and the Sudanese pound has plunged in value, while shortages of bread and fuel have regularly hit several cities.
Monday’s march was called for by a group of professionals including doctors, teachers and engineers, after it organised a similar rally on December 25.
“We will march towards the presidential palace calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down,” the Sudanese Professionals’ Association said in a statement late on Sunday.
Opposition groups and prominent rebel chief Abdel Wahid al-Nur from war-torn Darfur have also urged their supporters to participate in the march.
Addressing police generals on Sunday, al-Bashir cited a Quran verse about retribution in an apparent defence of security measures against protesters: “What is retribution? It’s killing, is it not? It is execution. Our Lord described as life because it is a means of deterring others so that we can maintain security.”
Activists and opposition figures had renewed calls on Sunday for the mass protest on the eve of Sudan’s Independence Day.
Al-Bashir delivered a nationwide address to mark the holiday on Monday evening.
Al Jazeera and news agencies