A Sudanese demonstrator wears a national flag during an anti-government protest in the Haj Yousef neighbourhood of the Bahari district in the capital Khartoum on January 22 2019. Picture: AFP
A Sudanese demonstrator wears a national flag during an anti-government protest in the Haj Yousef neighbourhood of the Bahari district in the capital Khartoum on January 22 2019. Picture: AFP

Khartoum — Sudanese police fired tear gas at hundreds of anti-government protesters trying to march on the presidential palace in Khartoum as demonstrators raised pressure on President Omar al-Bashir to resign with nationwide rallies on Thursday.

The East African nation has been rocked by more than a month of deadly protests triggered by the Bashir government’s decision to triple the price of bread.

Protesters chanting the movement’s catchcry of “Freedom, peace, justice” have been confronted by a crackdown that has drawn international condemnation, including from the US which has warned Sudan it could damage moves to improve their ties.

The mushrooming demonstrations are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s iron-fisted rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Officials say 26 people have died in the violence, but human rights groups have put the death toll at 40.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) that is spearheading the protest campaign has upped the ante with a call 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.

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

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters began demonstrating in the capital’s Burri district but riot police confronted them 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 were reported in the state of Jazeera, the Red Sea town of Port Sudan and in a village in North State, witnesses said.

In Port Sudan a security agent from the country’s powerful intelligence service, which is leading a crackdown on anti-government protests, was killed late on Wednesday in skirmishes with a group of soldiers, police said.

The reason for the fighting was not immediately clear but police said on Thursday that commanders of both groups later stopped it and the situation was under control.

Several previous attempted marches on the presidential palace have been broken up by riot police firing tear gas. A number of corporates and 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 December 19. 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 US of causing Sudan’s economic woes, but his words have fallen on deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

The US imposed a trade embargo on Sudan in 1997 and it was lifted only in October 2017. On Wednesday, Washington called for an investigation into the deaths of protesters, warning Khartoum that excessive force against demonstrators and intimidation of the press and activists would jeopardise relations.

“A new, more positive relationship between the US and Sudan requires meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights,” US state department spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a statement.