Thousands of Sudanese demonstrators marched in Khartoum on Saturday, many reaching the army headquarters for the first time since deadly protests against President Omar al-Bashir erupted last year, witnesses said.
Chanting “One Army, One People,” the protesters rallied in the capital’s streets following a call by organisers to march on the compound, which also includes Bashir’s residence.
The crowds chanted the movement’s catchcry “peace, justice, freedom” as they marched towards the complex where the defence ministry is also based, onlookers said. “They were also calling on Bashir to step down,” a witness said.
Taking a break from shouting anti-government slogans, protester Ghada Mohamed said the rally signalled a “bright future” for Sudan.
Protester Amir Omer said the demonstrators had managed to send a message to the military.
“We still haven’t achieved our goal, but we have delivered our message to the army and that is: come join us,” he said.
Protest organisers led by the Sudanese Professionals Association said earlier this week that demonstrators would march Saturday to demand the army either “take the side of the people or the dictator’s”.
Soon after reaching the compound, organisers called on the protesters to hold in place outside its fortified walls.
“At this historic moment, we ask you to not leave the army headquarters and hold a sit-in in the nearby streets,” the organisers said in a statement.
“We appreciate that the army did not touch the protesters and we hope that it will take the side of the people.” Since the protests erupted, security agents and riot police have cracked down on demonstrators but the army has not intervened.
In a separate demonstration, protesters reached the army office in the town of Madani southeast of the capital, witnesses said.
Protests have rocked the east African country since December, with angry crowds accusing Bashir’s government of mismanaging the economy that has led to soaring food prices and regular shortages of fuel and foreign currency.
Demonstrations first erupted on December 19 after a government decision to triple the price of bread.
But they quickly escalated into nationwide rallies against Bashir’s rule, with protesters calling on him to step down.
On February 22, the veteran leader imposed a nationwide state of emergency to quell the protests after an initial crackdown failed to rein in protesters. Since emergency rule came into effect, the demonstrations have been largely confined to the capital and its twin city of Omdurman, but organisers had called for widespread rallies and a march on the army headquarters on Saturday.