Sudan Protesters Rally for Fifth Day Outside Army HQ


Thousands of Sudanese protesters were camped outside army headquarters for a fifth day on Wednesday demanding President Omar al-Bashir step down, after the police ordered their forces not to intervene.

In what has become the biggest challenge yet to Bashir's three decades of iron-fisted rule, crowds of demonstrators thronged the sprawling complex, singing and dancing to the tunes of revolutionary songs, witnesses said.

A woman dubbed the protest movement's "Nubian queen" told AFP she was "very proud to take part in this revolution".

"I hope our revolution will achieve its goal," Alaa Salah said after footage went viral of her conducting chanting demonstrators outside army headquarters.

A student of architecture and engineering, Salah said women were "widely participating" in the protests "not only for their rights but for the rights of the entire community".

"If you see Sudan's history, all our queens have led the state. It's part of our heritage."

On Wednesday, protesters were raising funds to ensure a regular supply of food and water for the crowd.

"Many shop owners and businessmen have offered us free supplies," said one demonstrator.

Protesters were also putting up five big screens at the site of the rally, an onlooker said.

- 11 people killed -

The anti-government demonstrators have braved regular volleys of tear gas from members of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service since they began camping at the army headquarters on April 6, protest organizers say.

But for the first time overnight Tuesday they did not face any "threat" from security agents, said a protester who requested anonymity for security reasons.

That came after 11 people including six members of the security forces were killed Tuesday during demonstrations in the capital, government spokesman Hassan Ismail told the official SUNA news agency.

Officials say 49 people have died in protest-related violence since demonstrations first erupted in December.

Witnesses said troops had stationed several vehicles loaded with machine-guns at the gates of the complex, which also houses Bashir's residence and the defense ministry.

"The soldiers at the complex are also angry after the attacks of tear gas and are determined to prevent them," another demonstrator told AFP.

On Tuesday, security agents had to abort bids to disperse the crowds when soldiers fired in the air to counter incoming volleys of tear gas from security agents.

"It seems the police too are now with us," said a protester.

"When we were coming to the army building last night we saw many policemen but they did not stop us."

The police on Tuesday ordered its officers to avoid intervening against the demonstrators.

"We call on God to preserve the security and calm of our country ... and to unite the Sudanese people... for an agreement which would support the peaceful transition of power," a police spokesman said in a statement.

- Pro-Bashir rally -

As the sit-in continued at army headquarters, the acting chief of the president's ruling party, Ahmed Harun, backed calls by loyalists to hold a pro-Bashir rally.

"The National Congress Party's executive bureau supports the national dialogue partners' initiative to organize a gathering to be seen by all the people on Thursday," he said in a statement.

"I call on all members of NCP across the state of Khartoum to participate in this rally."

Bashir has remained defiant in the face of protests, which first erupted on December 19 in response to a government decision to triple the price of bread.

They quickly mushroomed into a nationwide campaign against the president's rule with rallies held across cities, towns and villages.

In response, Bashir has imposed a slew of tough measures including a nationwide state of emergency, which has led to scores of journalists and activists being arrested.

On Tuesday, the United States, Britain and Norway for the first time threw their weight behind the protesters, calling for a credible political transition plan in Sudan.

"The time has come for the Sudanese authorities to respond to these popular demands in a serious" way, the Khartoum embassies of the three countries said in a statement.

"The Sudanese authorities must now respond and deliver a credible plan for this political transition."

Defense Minister General Awad Ibnouf has vowed the army will "not allow the country to fall into chaos", in comments published Monday by state media.

The umbrella group spearheading the protests has meanwhile appealed to the army for talks on forming a transitional government.