KHARTOUM - Stone-throwing Sudanese demonstrators battled security forces in Khartoum on Thursday, witnesses said, and a child and a doctor were reported killed at the start of a fifth week of protests against President Omar al-Bashir's 30-year rule.
Protests also broke out in six other cities in some of the most widespread disturbances since the unrest began on Dec. 19. The Sudan Doctors' Committee, a group linked to the opposition, said the doctor and child were killed by gunshot wounds during the violence.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of a government-affiliated private hospital in Khartoum's Burri neighbourhood, where activists said the two died of their injuries. The protests continued into early Friday. Demonstrators chanted: "Freedom" and "Until the morning, we're staying," video footage showed.
Police could not immediately be reached for comment on the reported deaths.
The protests were triggered by price rises and cash shortages, but have quickly developed into demonstrations against Bashir.
In the day's most violent clashes, police in Burri fired rubber bullets and tear gas and chased demonstrators with batons, witnesses said. Several people were overcome with tear gas, while some were bruised by rubber bullets and others beaten.
Hundreds of young men and women blocked streets and alleyways with burning tyres, witnesses said. Some hurled stones at security forces. Many recited the chant that has become the crying call of demonstrators: "Down, that's it," to send the message that their only demand is Bashir's fall.
Demonstrators also taunted security forces by ululating each time a stone-throwing demonstrator hit police, witnesses said.
A live video posted on social media and verified by Reuters showed security forces pointing guns at protesters in Burri. A sound of gunfire could be heard.
‘Why are you shooting?’
In the video, a demonstrator yelled: "Why are you shooting?" as protesters, some wearing masks as protection from tear gas, ducked to avoid the firing. It was not clear if rubber or live bullets were used. One man who appeared to be injured and had spots of blood on his shirt was carried away.
"There were people shooting at us," one protester told Reuters.
He said he saw five people fall to the ground, adding he was not sure if they were hit by rubber or live bullets. He said he saw a few other injured people being carried away. Security forces blocked the area and the wounded were unable to reach a hospital, he said.
Instead they were being treated in a makeshift emergency room inside a home. At some point, security forces approached the makeshift clinic and fired tear gas into it as the wounded were being treated, three witnesses said.
A police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on the witnesses' account of the Burri clashes.
Hundreds also protested in al-Qadarif, Atbara, Port Sudan, al-Dueim, Omdurman and Al-Ubayyid, drawing tear-gas volleys from police, witnesses said.
Security forces have at times used live ammunition to disperse demonstrations. The official death toll stands at 24, including two security forces personnel. Amnesty International has said that more than 40 people have been killed.
Bashir blames foreign ‘agents’
Bashir has blamed the protests on foreign "agents" and said the unrest would not lead to a change in government, challenging his opponents to seek power through the ballot box.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday that she was deeply worried about reports of excessive use of force by Sudanese security forces.
“The government needs to ensure that security forces handle protests in line with the country’s international human rights obligations by facilitating and protecting the right to peaceful assembly,” said Bachelet, a former Chilean president.
Sudan has struggled economically since losing three-quarters of its oil output - its main source of foreign currency - when South Sudan seceded in 2011, keeping most of the oilfields.
The protests began in Atbara, in northeastern Sudan, a month ago when several thousand people took to the streets after the government raised bread and fuel prices to reduce the cost of subsidies.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges, which he denies, of masterminding genocide in the Darfur region, had been lobbying to be removed from the list of countries, along with Syria, Iran and North Korea, that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.
That listing has prevented an influx of investment and financial aid that Sudan was hoping for when the United States lifted sanctions in 2017, according to economists.
Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiralling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.
Sudan's inflation rate increased to 72.94 percent in December from 68.93 percent in November, state news agency SUNA said.