KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudanese security forces in pickup trucks cornered hundreds of mourners marching after burying a slain protester and opened fire on them today, participants said, the latest reported violence in a weeklong wave of demonstrations calling for the ouster of longtime President Omar al-Bashir.
Three female protesters said that they were surrounded by dozens of pickup trucks and security forces in a main street in the capital Khartoum and hit with tear gas and gunfire. It was not possible to independently verify their account, but Sudanese activists say the government’s poorly trained security forces have routinely used live fire against protesters, often shooting at the head and body.
The violent crackdown is propelling protests triggered by the lifting of fuel and gas subsidies into the most serious challenge to al-Bashir’s 24-year-long rule in years.
One of the three, speaking from a hospital, said that two of her relatives were wounded by bullets.
“The cars came from the back and the front while we were marching in the street,” a second female protester said.
Earlier in the day, chants of “The people want the downfall of al-Bashir” rang across the cemetery where 26-year-old pharmacist Salah al-Sanhouri was buried. Women, crying and hugging, blocked a side-street while chanting “Rebel! Rebel!” as his male relatives laid him to rest. His relatives say he was shot in the street outside his pharmacy as a march went by Friday, in the same street where the protest came under attack again today.
The death toll from a week of protests is sharply contested. Youth activists and doctors at a Khartoum hospital told The Associated Press that at least 100 people died since Monday. Sudanese police have reported at least 30 deaths nationwide, including policemen. A precise account was almost impossible to obtain. Official statements have often blamed unknown gunmen for attacking protesters.
Activists have begun to put together pictures, names and details of each slain protester. Amnesty International and the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies have accused the government of using a “shoot to kill” policy against this week’s protests, saying they had documented 50 deaths in rioting on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.
The government appears to be trying to impose a blackout. The Abu-Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia and the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite television station said Friday that their Khartoum offices were ordered shut by the government. Sudanese news outlets online have reported that photographers and cameraman have been barred from covering the protests, while editors have said they were ordered to describe protesters as “saboteurs.” Two editors, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals, said a total of three newspapers had seen issues confiscated and another three had been closed.
The unrest began early last week in the town of Wad Madani south of Khartoum when al-Bashir announced on TV lifting subsidies on fuel and gas to protect economy from “collapsing,” causing prices to leap.
Protesters say austerity measures are imposed on the poor as senior officials grow wealthy. “This is a government of thieves who looted the country and starved us,” the slain pharmacist’s uncle said. He refused to give his name for fear of reprisal.
The deaths have the potential to spread discontent among Sudan’s powerful extended families. The Sanhouris are prominent in the capital, and one mourner identified himself as a senior official in the intelligence services.
Although he maintains a strong grip on the regime, al-Bashir has been increasingly beleaguered. The economy has been worsening, especially after South Sudan broke off and became an independent state in 2011, taking Sudan’s main oil-producing territory. Armed secessionist groups operate in several parts of the country. And al-Bashir himself, who came to power as head of a military-Islamist regime after a 1989 coup, is wanted by the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.