Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir has been forced to evacuate a mosque after worshippers chanted slogans calling for regime change, as demonstrations against government autocracy and economic mismanagement continued across the country today.
Planned protests for "Martyrs Friday" are commemorating the lives of some 37 people who have been killed by security forces since demonstrations erupted ten days ago, according to rights groups.
However a video shared on social media also shows some worshippers chanting "Leave Bashir" at the Sayida Sanhouri Mosque in Khartoum where the president was reportedly in attendance; he was quickly escorted out of the building.
بعد صلاة الجمعة في مسجد سيدة سنهوري، البشير عقد لزول وبعد ما انتهى، في زول بقى يكورك ارحل يا بشير ارحل يا بشير و الشفع شغالين اقتلو اقتلو و في ثواني البشير اختفى و الزول القعد يكورك زاتو اختفى#مدن_السودان_تنتفض#جمعه_الشهدا pic.twitter.com/V4XyAvsXLH
— Ahmed Hadad 🎈 (@OuscarMax) December 28, 2018
Despite limited internet connectivity, activists and reporters are continuing to share photos and videos of peaceful protests taking place under the hashtag "The cities of Sudan rise". Demonstrations, initially against austerity measures, have been occurring nearly every day, in the capital Khartoum, as well as in the cities of Omdurman, Port Sudan, Al-Qadarif, Umm Ruwaba, Al-Tartar and dozens of surrounding towns and villages.
Over 200 people have been injured after the military violently repressed the rallies, shooting protesters and firing tear gas to disperse crowds. Hundreds more have been arrested and tortured, particularly students who have been detained en masse, with many claiming they were forced to confess to being part of a terror cell.
One of the dead was Abderrahman Asadig, a student at Khartoum University, who was detained by government forces three days ago; while the police claimed Asadig had drowned, his family have requested an autopsy after his body showed signs of severe beatings, including multiple head traumas.
Today the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva expressed alarm at the escalating violence and called on the government to show restraint towards protesters.
"Dissent must be tolerated and not restrained with excessive force which can lead to loss of life. I strongly urge the Sudanese security forces to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence and take immediate measures to protect the right to life of the demonstrators," UN expert Aristide Nononsi said.
Last night, security authorities arrested at least nine opposition leaders and activists ahead of planned protests. Just a day before, more than ten opposition groups had reportedly set their differences aside to form a coordinating committee to manage the joint public action. In a statement, they called on the other political forces, civil society groups and national figures to continue to protest for regime change.
Journalists have also faced severe limitations in reporting the demonstrations. Dozens have been arrested by security forces or barred from streets were rallies were taking place. Reporters from the London-based news network Al-Araby TV were also deported from Khartoum on Tuesday, and made to sign a commitment that they would never report from the country again.
Despite the brutal crackdown on protesters, the Sudanese government has continued to enjoy support from neighbouring Arab states including Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. Yesterday Al-Bashir met with the visiting Egyptian foreign minister, who stressed that Cairo is "always ready to provide support to Sudan in accordance with the vision of the Sudanese government and its policies".
In Ankara, deputy chairperson of the ruling Justice and Development party Cevdet Yilmaz also expressed support for Al-Bashir's government after a meeting with the Sudanese ambassador on Wednesday
"We support the legitimate government of Sudan. Turkey has faced similar ploys many times," Yilmaz said, adding that Turkey is confident that the government is sensitive to the demands of the Sudanese people and would avoid violence.
Last week, Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani also pledged to provide every possible support to enable the Sudanese government to overcome what he described as the current "ordeal".
Sudan's latest protests were triggered by a government decision to triple bread prices from one Sudanese pound ($0.02) to three Sudanese pounds ($0.063). Food prices have soared since the start of this year after the government stopped state-funded imports of wheat.
Sudan has been facing heightened economic uncertainty in recent years with an acute shortage of foreign currency resulting in the Sudanese pound plunging against the dollar. Despite the lifting of US economic sanctions last year, international banks have continued to be wary of doing business with financial institutions in the country.