Sudan: Security forces crack down on surging anti-Bashir protests

Death toll rises, activists say, as Khartoum protest against Sudanese president continues on fourth consecutive day.

    In the latest crackdown against protests in Sudan, security services loyal to President Omar al-Bashir have killed at least 14 anti-government protesters taking part in a mass sit-in outside the army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, according to activists behind the demonstration.

    Tuesday's deaths brought the total number of people killed during the protests since it started on Saturday to 22, including five soldiers who were killed while defending the protesters, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD), said in a statement.

    The CCSD, which is affiliated with the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the umbrella group at the forefront of the demonstrations, said 153 others were wounded. It said it expects the death toll to increase since some injuries were critical.

    The government on Monday put the death toll since the weekend at seven.

    The sit-in outside the complex, which also houses Bashir's official residence, is the latest in a succession of anti-government demonstrations which have plunged Sudan into a major political crisis.

    The protests - organised by doctors, teachers and lawyers, among others - erupted in December over rising bread prices before morphing into demands for the president to step down after three decades in power. More than 60 people have been killed since the demonstrations began, according to activists.

    Protest organisers alleged forces belonging to the widely-feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition in a bid to disperse the thousands of demonstrators who have camped out at the Khartoum complex, prompting some members of the army to attempt to protect those demonstrating.

    Army chief: No military-NISS split

    Protesters and the opposition Sudanese Congress Party (SCP) have called on the country's military leadership to abandon Bashir, whose power base is within the armed forces. They insist, however, that they do not want a coup but the army to join their demand for the establishment of a transitional government.

    "We keep asking for the army to ... protect this revolution and keep it peaceful," SPA spokeswoman Sara Abdeljaleel told Al Jazeera from Britain's capital, London.

    SCP secretary-general Khalid Omer Yousif said the army had "no other option but to respond positively to the demands of the people", warning to do otherwise could unleash further unrest.

    "The leadership of the army, if they delay their response to the demands of the people and the call of the opposition, are endangering the unity of the army itself and this will lead the country into chaos," Yousif told Al Jazeera.

    On Monday, Sudan's Defence Minister General Awad Ibnouf had said that the military understood the "reasons for the demonstrations" against Bashir but would not allow mayhem to take hold.

    "History will not forgive if the armed forces let the country lose its security," Ibnouf said at a meeting of top military brass, according to the state-run SUNA news agency.

    He also denied there were any divisions between the military and the NISS, saying the two were coordinating on how to deal with the protests.

    US, UK, Norway call for 'political transition'

    Amid the unrest, foreign governments have called on Sudan's leadership to deliver a "credible plan for political transition".

    In a joint statement on Tuesday, the embassies of the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom in Sudan said "the time has come for the Sudanese authorities to respond to these popular demands in a serious and credible way".

    "There remains a clear need for political and economic reform in Sudan that is fully inclusive, and which addresses the legitimate grievances expressed by the protesters," the joint statement said.

    "Economic stability cannot be achieved without first reaching political consensus ... [and] political consensus cannot be achieved by imprisoning, shooting, and criminalising peaceful protesters," it added.

    Despite the rising pressure, the 75-year-old leader has so far refused to step down. He has responded to the unrest with harsh measures, including a state of emergency declared in February, that have seen protesters, opposition leaders, activists and journalists detained.

    Critics accuse him of mismanaging Sudan's economy, resulting in high food prices, regular fuel shortages and widespread cash shortages.

    The president, who took power in a 1989 coup, has acknowledged that the economic concerns raised by protesters are "legitimate" but says his opponents should seek power through the ballot box when his term ends in 2020.

    Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of alleged war crimes and genocide connected with the suppression of a 16-year-old ethnic minority rebellion in the western region of Darfur.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies