CAIRO — Sudanese police used tear gas Friday to disperse protesters who took to the streets in a city near the capital to demand the ouster of the country's autocratic regime, an opposition member said.
The protests were prompted by government's austerity plan that slashed subsidies and doubled the price of fuel and food. They also appeared to be inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in neighboring Egypt and Libya. Demonstrators demanded the removal of longtime Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Protests have taken place in different parts of Sudan for the past two weeks. This was the first call for an organized Friday rally, in line with weekly anti-regime demonstrations that have marked the past 18 months in restive nations around the region.
Siddique Tawer, a member of a Sudanese opposition umbrella group, said more than a thousand people demonstrated after Friday prayers in city of Omdurman, calling for al-Bashir to step down. Omdurman is across the White Nile river from the capital, Khartoum.
Tawer said the police tried to break up the protest with tear gas. He said there were smaller rallies in different parts of Khartoum, in the northern Kordofan state and in the central Blue Nile state.
The protesters chanted anti-regime slogans, including "The people want to bring down the regime," a mantra of Arab Spring protests across the Mideast.
"This 23-year-old regime must change. It has corrupted, humiliated, robbed and divided the country. They must pay," Tawer said.
Sudanese police were ordered last week to respond "firmly and immediately" to the demonstrations, which the government described as rioters seeking to sabotage public properties and obstruct the government.
The Sudanese call for protests, made through Facebook, called the rally "Friday of licking your elbow," a Sudanese expression used by officials to mock calls for change by characterizing them as impossible.
Al-Bashir has defended his austerity measures by noting that with the secession of South Sudan, his country has turned from an oil exporter to an importer. He also pointed to the costly conflict with South Sudan, where key issues like borders and control of oil fields have not been settled.
Al-Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over another conflict – a decade-long war in Sudan's Darfur region.