Sudan protesters plan new march on palace in nationwide demos

Khartoum (AFP) –


Sudanese anti-government protesters plan to make a new attempt to march on the presidential palace as they step up 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 United States 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 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.

- Economic crisis -

"The people of other towns and cities will also hold their own marches," said the SPA, an umbrella group of unions representing doctors, teachers and engineers.

Several previous attempts to march on the presidential palace have been broken up by riot police firing tear gas.

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 shortage of foreign currency.

Bashir, 75, has remained defiant and rejected the calls to step down.

The veteran leader has blamed the United States for Sudan's economic woes, but his words have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

The United States had 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 United States and Sudan requires meaningful political reform and clear, sustained progress on respect for human rights," US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.