More than 30 people were arrested on Friday when police fired tear gas at a mosque which has become a focus of Arab Spring-style protests in Sudan, a senior opposition figure said.
About 200 people were left inside the besieged Wad Nubawi mosque after many others fled from the tear gas, said Mariam al-Mahdi, a member of the political bureau of the Umma party linked to the mosque in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.
“They hit them massively with the nerve gas,” said Mahdi, daughter of former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi who leads the party. There were “many casualties” because people were suffocating from the fumes.
The remaining group of 200 were later “beaten out” of the mosque, she said.
Security forces have responded with increasingly aggressive tactics, using gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition mostly fired into the air, since June 22 when small demonstrations began at the mosque after Friday prayers, she told AFP in an interview this week.
Hundreds of youths, party members and others who held a sit-in at the mosque on July 6 were also besieged by security forces, she said.
Protests in Sudan began on June 16 when University of Khartoum students voiced their opposition to high food prices.
After President Omar al-Bashir announced austerity measures, including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel, scattered protests spread to include a cross-section of people around the capital and in other parts of Sudan.
Bashir has played down the demonstrations as small-scale and not comparable to the Arab Spring uprisings, and has suggested that someone was behind the protests against his National Congress Party (NCP) government.
Sudanese proudly note that they have twice before toppled military regimes, in 1964 and 1985 -- long before the Arab Spring revolts against authoritarian rulers in North Africa and the Middle East began in December 2010.
While those uprisings led to the election of an Islamist president in Egypt and an Islamist-dominated government in Tunisia, Sudanese are seeking the ouster of an Islamist.
Like their counterparts in Syria and elsewhere, Sudanese activists are uploading videos of their protests and using Twitter and other Internet tools to spread their news.
The government has detained local and foreign journalists as part of its clampdown on the protest movement.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement on Wednesday that “Sudanese security forces have repeatedly used excessive force to disperse the demonstrations and arrested scores of peaceful protesters.” Asked whether Sudan was witnessing the start of another Arab Spring revolt, Mahdi told AFP this week: “It will not stop until it reaches the end.”
But some activists and others have said fear is a factor keeping more Sudanese from joining the demonstrations against a regime that relies on an extensive internal security network to remain in control.