CAIRO: As protests in Sudan continue, with many hopeful that it could be the beginnings of a mass movement to oust the ruling authoritarian regime of Omar al-Bashir, the country’s top police chief on Saturday said his forces would end protests “firm and immediately.”
The statement has activists worried that it could mean more violence meted out to them by security forces in the country, which have already used what protesters say is “excessive” force and tear gas to disperse demonstrations across the capital, Khartoum.
Gen. Hashem Othman al-Hussein told his aides to confront the “riots … and the groups behind them,” the official SUNA news agency reported.
It was a rare acknowledgement by the state media of demonstrations that have been concentrated in Khartoum, but have now spread to a provincial capital.
According to reports from Khartoum, security forces broke up the demonstrations on Friday after activists gathered following the noon prayers.
Initially, the protests erupted over government spending cuts, but have now expanded and have begun to call for an end to authoritarian rule of the country.
There were at least 7 separate demonstrations across the Sudanese capital on Friday, news correspondents said, including in neighborhoods that had not seen protests previously.
About 400 to 500 protesters began chanting “the people want to overthrow the regime” as they left the Imam Abdel Rahman mosque in the suburb of Omdurman, activists and two witnesses told Reuters news agency.
As security forces gathered, the protesters called for the police to join them, chanting: “Oh police, oh police, how much is your salary and how much is a pound of sugar?”
The police fired tear gas and then used batons as they clashed with the protesters, who threw rocks. Witnesses said men in civilian clothes also attacked the demonstrators.
The United States government is concerned about the reports of widespread violence in Sudan by police and security forces.
“The United States is deeply concerned by the crackdown by the Sudanese authorities on peaceful demonstrators in Khartoum over the last three days,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Tuesday.
“We call on the Government of Sudan to respect the right of its citizens to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in order to raise their grievances.
“In addition to the crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators, we are concerned that Sudanese authorities have increased pre-publication censorship of independent newspapers in recent weeks,” she added.
“We call on Sudan to respect freedom of expressing, including for members of the press, as guaranteed in the Interim National Constitution of 2005 and internationally recognized covenants to which the Government of Sudan is party.”
Sudanese activists said the security forces have dealt with protesters over the last few days with unprecedented violence, saying that Sunday was the bloodiest day in Sudanese street history.
Sudan has economically suffered since the oil rich south gained its independence in July of last year.
The government is facing a budget deficit and believes that canceling subsidies will save about two billion dollars annually.
The protest was met with massive violence from police, reported the pro-change group Change Sudan Now.
“We call for an immediate end to violence against peaceful protesters who are expressing legitimate demands,” the group said in statement released Monday online.
The group called on the media and non-governmental groups to document what they called “crimes against the protesters” in Sudan.
Activists reported that police opened fire on protesters, but no deaths have been reported to date.
Sudan, whose the Arab Spring wave of change seemed to pass without protests, is looking in the face of new challenges, with increasing food prices and soaring gas prices, and it is unlikely for protests to stop.
** Manar Ammar contributed to this report.