Sudanese police fired tear gas at scores of protesters at one of the largest mosques in the capital Khartoum yesterday, as demonstrations over austerity measures regained momentum.
What started on university campuses as mainly student-driven protests against government spending cuts have spread outside the capital in the past two weeks, with protesters chanting "The people want the downfall of the regime" – the refrain of last year's Arab Spring.
The witness said police had surrounded the Imam Abdel Rahman mosque, known as a centre of support for the opposition Umma party, in the suburb of Omdurman after Friday prayers, and tear gassed protesters who were hurling stones at security forces. The witness said several people were arrested.
"Freedom, peace and justice! The revolution is the choice of the people," older men and younger men in T-shirts and jeans chanted outside the mosque before the security forces moved to stop the demonstration.
More than 100 people also protested outside a mosque in the northern suburb of Bahri, the witness said, and a protest broke out in North Kordofan province in western Sudan where about 200 protesters chanted "No, no to expensiveness".
Witnesses said more than 150 protesters had blocked off the road in another area of Bahri, chanting: "Freedom, freedom". Activists have dubbed this Friday "Licking the elbow" – a phrase used by the government to mean attempting the impossible.
Sudan has suffered soaring inflation since South Sudan seceded a year ago – taking with it about three quarters of the country's oil – and activists have been trying to use public frustration to build a movement to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, in power since 1989.
Large demonstrations have been relatively rare in Sudan and security forces move quickly to disperse protests.
Government moves to cut spending to plug a gaping budget deficit, including scaling back fuel subsidies, have sparked the spate of demonstrations over the past fortnight.
It is not yet clear whether the protests pose a real threat to the ruling National Congress Party and Mr Bashir, but the tough response by security forces shows how high the stakes are for Sudan's rulers, who are struggling to contain multiple armed rebellions as well as economic crisis.