By MAGGIE MICHAEL
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ Sudanese security forces fired volleys of tear gas to disperse a demonstration held inside a women’s university in the Sudanese capital Monday, witnesses said, the latest in a week-long wave of protests against the country’s autocratic president.
The protest erupted at al-Ahfad university in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman, a stronghold of the opposition. Two students told The Associated Press over the phone that hundreds of students clapped and chanted against the government of President Omar al-Bashir until the security forces barraged the building with tear gas.
“I saw students falling, fainting from the heavy gas. Ambulances rushed to the university,” said one of the students. She said the gates had been closed by the administration to prevent the students from marching in the street.
The two students spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The protests are the largest in the Sudanese capital in years, and constitute one of the most serious challenges yet to al-Bashir in his 24 years in power.
It started last week when the government lifted fuel subsidies, causing food prices and transportation fares to spike. The protests quickly escalated into calls for al-Bashir’s ouster.
Security forces have heavily cracked down on protests, killing at least 50 according to international rights groups. Journalists say that the government has imposed a media blackout on covering them.
In a rare show of defiance, a young Sudanese journalist accused two powerful ministers of lying when one of them, the Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed, claimed that photos posted on social networking sites of slain protesters, reportedly killed by the security forces, were fabricated and shot in Egypt not Sudan.
“Why do you insist on lying?” journalist Burham Abdel-Moneim said during a news conference, video of which subsequently circulated widely on social media. He was addressing the Information Minister Ahmed Belal Osman who could be heard to mutter, “… will take measures against you.”
Journalists fear to antagonize the authorities in Sudan, and rights groups say they are routinely harassed and arrested. Last week, editors say, authorities closed and confiscated newspapers and pressured the media to call protesters “saboteurs.”
Osman said at the news conference that newspapers violated an earlier agreement with the government not to tackle “security issues,” and that they “crossed a red line talking about security.”
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti has also defended the clampdown, saying, “Media make revolutions.”
“If the revolution is created by media, we have to be serious in dealing with it,” he told Al-Arabiya satellite network on Sunday from New York, where he was attending the U.N. General Assembly.