Thousands of protesters, defying the bullets of security forces at a strategic site outside Sudan’s army headquarters, are continuing a bold round-the-clock demonstration that has exposed divisions in the authoritarian regime and increased pressure on President Omar al-Bashir to step down.
The protesters won strong support internationally on Tuesday, with Canada praising their “display of unity” and the United States and Britain calling on Sudanese authorities to respond to the demonstration with a political transition to a more inclusive and legitimate government.
The opposition movement has gained support from some elements in the Sudanese military, including mid-ranking officers who publicly joined the protesters this week. But a crackdown by the police and security agencies in Khartoum has continued, with 22 people killed over the past four days, including five soldiers who were helping the protesters, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, a pro-opposition group. More than 150 people have been injured, the doctors said.
Protests have surged across Sudan for the past four months, sparked originally by a tripling of bread prices and a growing economic crisis. The pressure on Mr. al-Bashir has intensified since Saturday, when the protesters began a mass sit-in at the army headquarters in the capital city, winning protection from some sections of the military.
Mr. al-Bashir, who came to power in a military coup in 1989, has survived decades of wars, rebellions, U.S. sanctions and an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity for his actions against civilians in Darfur. But there are increasing reports that he could soon be forced to give up power as his regime struggles to cope with the daily protests and the economic crisis.
The protests have galvanized popular support in dozens of towns and cities across the country, with women among the most prominent leaders in many of the protests. Women have often been targeted by Islamist hard-liners in the government and the security forces, stoking resentments that have fueled the protests.
One of the most iconic images of the protests this week was a photo of a young white-robed woman, a university student named Alaa Salah, standing on top of a car and singing revolutionary songs, with her finger pointing to the sky, while the crowd cheered her on. The photo went viral on social media as a symbol of the central role of women in the protests.
In an effort to dislodge the protesters, Sudan’s police and security agencies have launched predawn attacks every night since the sit-in began, using volleys of tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition. In some cases, soldiers in military vehicles have defended the protesters, raising the prospect of a dangerous split in the military that could make it difficult for the government to crush the protests.
Amnesty International, in a report on Tuesday, said the authorities have tried to cut the cellphone signal and social-media platforms at the protest site. They have also cut off the water supply to the area and seized supplies of food and water from the cars of people supporting the protesters, Amnesty said.
“The move by the authorities to try to starve protesters and deny them access to communication is a clear attempt to silence and deny protesters their human rights,” Amnesty said in a statement.
The Canadian embassy in Khartoum, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, praised the people of Sudan for their efforts to “make their voices and grievances heard” through the daily demonstrations. “The display of unity by the protesters in the last three days speaks to their determination in their demand for dialogue,” the embassy said.
The Canadian embassy criticized the “disproportionate response by some Sudanese security forces … including killings, arbitrary detention, curtailment of basic freedoms, added to the imposition of a state of emergency.”
An even stronger statement was issued by the United States, Britain and Norway. They called for a “political transition” that responds to the demands of the protesters for an inclusive and legitimate government.
“The demand for political change from the courageous and resilient people of Sudan is becoming ever clearer and more powerful,” the three countries said. “The Sudanese authorities must now respond and deliver a credible plan for this political transition. Failing to do so risks causing greater instability.”