, Khartoum, Sudan, Feb 21 – Sudanese security agents Thursday arrested several opposition leaders and activists as hundreds of anti-government protesters trying to march on the presidential palace were dispersed with tear gas, witnesses said.
Demonstrators chanting “freedom, peace, justice” reached downtown Khartoum but were confronted by riot police, witnesses said, adding that several dissidents were detained by agents of the country’s feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).
Rabah al-Mahdi from the main opposition National Umma Party said that at least 26 campaigners and opposition leaders had been arrested.
The Sudanese Professionals Association that is spearheading the protest campaign had called on demonstrators to march on the palace to hand over a demand for President Omar al-Bashir to step down.
Witnesses said riot police dispersed the march using tear gas before it could reach the palace.
After the police broke up the march, protesters rallied in some neighbourhoods of the capital, witnesses said.
Demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans in the Burri, Haji Yusef and Al-Shejra districts of the capital, but riot police confronted them with tear gas, witnesses said.
Protesters threw rocks at vehicles carrying policemen in Burri, an eastern neighbourhood that has seen near daily demonstrations against the government.
“Potesters and police clashed in Burri, with demonstrators throwing rocks at police vehicles and policemen firing tear gas at them,” a witness said, adding that demonstrators later dispersed.
Some employees of two telecommunication companies, MTN and Zain, also staged separate sit-ins in support of protesters in Khartoum, witnesses said.
Demonstrators also rallied in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan in support of workers at the docks who have been on strike for four days, witnesses said.
Hundreds of workers at the port have been on strike over a government decision to transfer the facility’s container terminal to a Philippine company, a union leader told AFP from Port Sudan.
Police also fired tear gas at protesters who rallied in the central town of Madani, witnesses said.
For more than two months, protesters in several cities and towns have held near-daily demonstrations against Bashir’s government, accusing it of economic mismanagement that has led to soaring inflation and shortages of foreign currency.
Protests broke out on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread and swiftly escalated into rallies against Bashir’s iron-fisted rule stretching back three decades.
Officials say 31 people have died in protest-related violence, while Human Rights Watch says at least 51 people have been killed.
Bashir, 75, has remained defiant, vowing to promote peace and economic development across the country.