Thousands protest in Sudan's Kassala as death toll mounts

 
 
Updated 2/2/2019 11:43 AM
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CAIRO -- Thousands of residents poured out onto the streets of Sudan's eastern province of Kassala to denounce the death of a protester last week following demonstrations calling for the president's ouster, officials and activists said.

The protester, Ahmed al-Khair, was a 33-year-old school teacher who was detained last Thursday and pronounced dead in custody on Friday evening. Protests have gripped Sudan since Dec. 19, starting initially over rising prices and shortages but quickly shifting to calls for the fall of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir. Activists said al-Khair's death raises the toll of the protests to 53. An estimated 2,000 protesters have also since been wounded, many shot in the eye with birdshot and some losing limbs from live ammunition, according to the activists, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The government's latest tally stands at 30 killed and about 400 wounded, but these figures have not been updated in days. The authorities refused to provide a cause of death to al-Khair's family, but his body, including his groin area, was covered in bruises, a relative of his said. There were also signs of rectal bleeding, according to a second relative, who said that the family intends to file charges against the police. They also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Al-Khair's funeral quickly turned into a protest, with thousands chanting: "We are all Ahmed!" and "just fall," the slogan and Twitter hashtag of the Dec. 19 demonstrations.

Kassala's police chief denied any police wrongdoing and blamed al-Khair's death on an "illness," without providing any details. The family, he said, attended an autopsy and "is completely sure that he was not touched or subjected to torture."

There are an additional 33 night protests planned for Saturday night across Sudan, according to online activists.

The country's intelligence and security officials, along with Bashir, insist that the rallies are the work of what they describe as "evil" foreign powers, and have vowed to stop them.

The real figure for the wounded may be significantly higher because many of them avoid going to hospitals for fear of arrest, according to rights lawyers, also speaking anonymously for the same reasons. The authorities have pressed criminal charges against about 70 doctors across the country for sympathizing with the protests and going on strike, they added.

Earlier in the week, a foreign correspondent with the UK's Channel 4 News posted on Twitter that she had fled the capital, Khartoum, after she was threatened with criminal prosecution. She said she was working on an investigation into the violence and sexual harassment experienced by detained female protesters in custody.

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