Khalil Hamra, Associated Press
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Security forces opened fire on Sudanese protesters Friday, witnesses said, as thousands marched through the streets of the capital in an opposition push to turn a wave of popular anger over fuel price hikes into an outright uprising against the 24-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir.
At least 50 people have been killed so far this week in the security forces' crackdown on a startling burst of protests, sparked by cuts on fuel and gas subsidies. The marches are turning into the heaviest domestic challenge yet faced by al-Bashir, who has so far been spared the sort of anti-authoritarian popular revolts seen around the Arab world in the past two years.
Though he has kept his grip on the regime, al-Bashir has been increasingly beleaguered. The economy has been worsening, especially after South Sudan broke off and became an independent state in 2011, taking Sudan's main oil-producing territory. Armed secessionist groups operate in several parts of the country. And al-Bashir himself, who came to power as head of a military-Islamist regime after a 1989 coup, is wanted by the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes in Sudan's western region of Darfur.
Protesters marched in several parts of Khartoum and in at least one other city, Wad Madani, after weekly Muslim prayers. Security forces opened fire on marchs on Street 60 in eastern Khartoum and Street 40 in the Omdurman district, witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. There was no immediate word on casualties.
In the Khartoum district of Omdurman, a longtime opposition stronghold, one of Sudan's most prominent opposition leaders, Sadiq al-Mahdi, delivered the Friday sermon at a mosque, telling worshippers that al-Bashir has been spending the state's budget on "consolidating power" and failed "to lift the agony off the citizens' shoulders."
"Life became unbearable. Citizens' main concern is survival after the government gave up on its responsibility to provide subsidies," said al-Mahdi, of the National Umma Party. "We call for changing the regime."
After the sermon, a crowd of protesters marched from the mosque through the district, chanting "the people want the downfall of the regime," the slogan heard in Arab Spring uprisings from Tunisia and Egypt to Syria and Yemen.
Security forces were deployed nearby in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns. Omdurman residents blocked their streets with rocks and pipes in an attempt to keep security forces out. Still, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition on the march as it tried to cross the Nile River into central Khartoum, sending protesters running, some hiding in nearby homes, witnesses said.
"People will not be stopped by the killings until this rotten regime leaves," one witness and Umma Party member, Mohammed al-Mahdi, told the Associated Press.
Lawyer and member of the opposition Umma Party, Nafeesa Hagar said she was injured in the back by rubber bullets during the march. "There is no way people will retreat. We entered a new phase where the street is facing the regime that left us no option but confrontation," she said.
Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud said Friday that 600 people have been arrested this week for "sabotage" and will stand trial, according to SUNA. He warned on Friday that "the safety of citizens is a red line." The state-run al-Sahafa daily proclaimed in a front-page headline that the government will "will paralyze the hands of vandals."
A number of newspapers were barred from publishing. The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite television station said Friday its Khartoum office was ordered by the government. Sudanese news outlets online have reported that photographers and cameraman have been barred from covering the protests.
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