CAIRO — Thousands took to the streets in the Sudanese capital on Sunday to call for President Omar al-Bashir to step down, the latest in nearly three weeks of demonstrations against his 29-year autocratic rule.
Protesters gathered at several points across Khartoum before they began to march on al-Bashir's Nile-side palace in the city center. They chanted: "Freedom, peace and justice; Revolution is the people's choice."
Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, who would regroup and resume the march only to be attacked by tear gas again. A video clip shared by activists online purported to show policemen chasing protesters as they pointed their tear gas guns skyward before firing them.
Another clip showed protesters running away from the police, seeking shelter in side streets to avoid arrest and the tear gas.
"I am fully confident that we will succeed in bringing down this regime and live the life that we deserve," said Mohammed, an unemployed 25-year-old who declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals. "My confidence comes from the fact that most protesters are young and persistent like me," he said after screaming at fellow protesters not to run away from the tear gas.
Another activist, Romaisa, 40, was out of breath as she ran to escape arrest. "We will triumph at the end despite the excessive use of violence and because we insist on demonstrating," she said. She also declined to give her full name for fear of arrest.
The activists said police on Sunday blocked a bridge over the Nile that links Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman to the capital's center in a bid to prevent protesters from joining forces. They said unusually large numbers of police and plainclothes security men were deployed across Khartoum in anticipation of Sunday's protests, which began at 1 p.m.
Police have meanwhile arrested at least five Khartoum university lecturers after they staged a brief, on campus protest Sunday in solidarity with the demonstrators, according to activists reached in the Sudanese capital. Authorities have detained scores of activists and opposition leaders during the last two weeks.
There were also protests Sunday in the town of Wad Madani south of Khartoum, where police also used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse protesters. There were also protests in Atbara, a railway city north of the capital and a traditional hotbed of dissent.
Al-Bashir, an Islamist, has been in power since he led a military coup 29 years ago. He has shown no signs that he might step down anytime soon and continues to blame the country's problems on international sanctions and plots against its Islamic "experience." His rule has been defined by turmoil and conflict while the economy lurched from one crisis to another. The secession of the mostly animist and Christian south of the country in 2011 deprived Sudan of about three quarters of the country's oil wealth.
The 74-year-old leader has spoken in public on at least five occasions since the start of the protests, initially sparked by worsening economic conditions but soon shifted to calls for al-Bashir to quit. He has used his speaking engagements to try and placate the Sudanese, promising them better days ahead and seeking to justify on religious grounds the killing of protesters — up to 40 have reportedly died.
In addition to using violence to quash the protests, authorities have imposed emergency laws and nighttime curfews in some cities and suspended classes at schools and universities across much of Sudan. Internet sites have also been blocked and journalists are barred from covering the protests on the streets.