Sudan’s Bashir draws crowds to Khartoum – as protesters stand their ground

A defiant anti-government rally in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, looked set to dwarf a counter-demonstration by supporters of President Omar al-Bashir on Friday, amid a surge of protests demanding that he and his loyalists step down.

Waving banners and regaining composure after violent clashes at the beginning of the week, protesters began streaming towards the Presidential Palace on Thursday, part of a surge of unrest now showing some staying power after months of modest protests.

Fahd, a 21-year-old demonstrator, said there was no difference between the protesters and those backing Bashir. “We are both non-violent in our protests,” he said. “We are all against this regime that does nothing for Sudan.”

A Reuters reporter counted around 3,000 demonstrators in Khartoum on Thursday, dwarfed by the thousands of Bashir supporters, armed with missiles, who stood among the city’s trees.

Witnesses said the head of Sudan’s main opposition party, Sadiq al-Mahdi, stood at the head of a large group of supporters in front of the Presidential Palace but as word spread on the square of the larger anti-government crowd there were scuffles with police who charged into the crowd, firing teargas and batons and charging at protesters.

Bashir, who has been in power since 1989, has remained defiant in the face of protests inspired by mass revolts that have swept other states in the region. “The government won’t change,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television on Thursday night.

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