Protesters in Sudan's capital head for rally point station

CAIRO — Hundreds of protesters marched in and around Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Sunday, the fourth week of unrest that began over skyrocketing prices and a failing economy but which now calls for the ouster of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir.

Images circulated by activists online showed marches taking place in Khartoum and its northern twin cities of Omdurman and Bahary, despite security forces firing tear gas at the crowds. One group, hundreds strong, appeared to have reached Bahary’s main train station.

Security forces encircled the area and fired in the air to disperse crowds around the station, the main rally point for a gathering called by protest groups, professional associations and political opposition. Shops in the area have been almost entirely shuttered, eyewitnesses said, and crowds continued to gather.

Protesters burnt tires to obscure the view of policemen chasing them down, in a cat-and-mouse game that lasted until after dark. Witnesses said security forces were breaking into local homes and businesses in pursuit of demonstrators taking refuge there.

“The people want the fall of the regime,” chanted a crowd in the area, as seen in one video, echoing a popular slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that briefly defied despotism in the region, but never made it to Sudan.

Demonstrations also took place in other cities across the country, particularly in Gadarif, Faw and Amri, as well in the western region of Darfur, activists said, with eyewitnesses adding that police had broken up a 1,000-person strong demonstration in the northern Darfur town of el-Fasher.

The eyewitnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

They said that security forces had surrounded the Haj al-Safi hospital in Khartoum, while a doctors’ union warned them against attacking or firing tear gas near or inside hospitals as had been reported last week by Amnesty International.

Sudan’s economy has stagnated for most of al-Bashir’s rule, but its recent lows have been dramatic, prompting the protests. He has also failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation, losing three quarters of Sudan’s oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.

Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur.

An Islamist who has been in power since he led a military coup in 1989, he has said those seeking to oust him can only do so through elections, and he is running for another term in office next year. He has insisted that the protests are part of a foreign plot to undermine Sudan’s “Islamic experiment” and blamed the country’s worsening economic crisis on international sanctions.

Already among the longest serving leaders in the region, al-Bashir hopes to win another term in office. In a bid to placate popular anger over his economic policies, he has promised higher wages, continuing state subsidies on basic goods and more benefits for pensioners.

His promises have been dismissed by critics as untenable.

Also Sunday, the government raised its official death toll from the weeks of protest by five to 24, still undercutting numbers released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who say at least 40 have been killed.

Sudan’s General Prosecutor said nine of those killed were in Gadaref, a province southeast of Khartoum close to the Ethiopian and Eritrean borders. The rest were killed in Omdurman and regions north and northeast of the capital.