Khartoum: Sudan’s army deployed around its Khartoum headquarters on Monday as thousands of protesters urging the military to back calls for leader Omar al-Bashir’s resignation defied tear gas to demonstrate for a third day, witnesses said.
“When the army is here, we have no fear,” protesters flashing victory signs chanted as military vehicles with soldiers fanned out around the complex, onlookers said.
Since protests erupted across Sudan in December agents of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS and riot police have cracked down on demonstrators, but the army has not intervened.
Protesters have since Saturday camped out around the army complex – which also houses Bashir’s residence and the defence ministry – in the biggest anti-government demonstrations for months.
Witnesses said soldiers were putting up barricades in streets near the compound after a crackdown by NISS personnel and police failed to dislodge the demonstrators.
Several vehicles carrying intelligence agency members and riot police had arrived in the early hours on Monday at the protest site, witnesses said.
“After that, security forces began firing tear gas at protesters,” a witness said on condition of anonymity.
Gunshots were also heard, witnesses said, but it was not clear who fired.
Some activists on the ground said it was the army shooting in the air, but this could not be confirmed independently.
Protest organisers urged the military to protect the demonstrators from secret service agents and riot police.
“We want you, the young officers and soldiers, to remain committed to the role of the national army, which is of protecting the people,” the Sudanese Professionals Association said in a statement.
“I stepped out on my balcony hearing the sound of the gas canisters and could feel the gas in the air,” said one resident.
A few hours later security personnel again fired tear gas at the demonstrators, witnesses said.
Protest organisers urged the residents of Khartoum and nearby areas to join the demonstrators who have been on the streets for three days straight.
“Security forces of the regime are trying to disperse the sit-in by force,” the organisers called the Alliance for Freedom and Change said in a statement. “We call on all people around Khartoum to gather there to protect our people on the ground.” Crowds of people carrying food and water were later seen walking towards the army complex to participate in the demonstration, according to onlookers.